Designated hitter Michael Fernandez blasted a grand slam as part of a five-run third inning to propel Florida Christian into the regional final with a 7-4 victory over Westminster Christian in the Region 4-3A semifinals Tuesday.
With the score tied at 2, the bases loaded and one out, Fernandez pulled a 2-2 fastball from Westminster reliever Trevor Enriquez about 350 feet over the left-field wall to give host Florida Christian a four-run lead it would not relinquish against its district rival in front of a standing-room-only crowd of about 450 fans.
“Best feeling I’ve ever had,” Fernandez said. “I saw the pitch and did what we worked on in practice.”
The Patriots (17-12) advance to face Coral Springs Christian, which they defeated in an extra-inning affair in the regular season.
Florida Christian starter Chris Pelaez struck out six in his four-plus innings. He left the game with the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the fifth, and two of those runners came across to score to finish his line with four runs — three of them earned — on four hits, six walks and two hit batters.
Alex Valverde came on in relief of Pelaez to earn a three-inning save. He had to get out of bases-loaded jams in the fifth and sixth innings.
“That’s kind of been our story all year,” Florida Christian coach Chris Brigman said. “We’ve been pitching out of jam after jam after jam.”
Valverde finished off the Warriors (17-9-1) by striking out leadoff man John Gonzalez looking. Gonzalez had to be restrained by Westminster coaches after words appeared to be exchanged between he and Patriot players as they began celebrating.
Florida Christian leadoff man Mike Tosar went 2 for 3 and scored three runs.
WP: Chris Pelaez. LP: Jacob Zarello. SV: Alex Valverde.
• State play-in — Coral Reef d. Sunset 26-24, 12-25, 24-16, 25-19: After the Coral Reef girls’ volleyball squad secured a trip to states last fall, the pressure was on for the boys’ squad to do the same.
It did just that, withstanding a scrappy Sunset team at home and defeating the Knights to advance to the state tournament.
A balanced offensive effort carried the Barracudas to victory, with middle blocker Cedric Hankerson leading the team with 14 kills and five blocks while Malik Audain added 13 kills.
After the Barracudas got off to a hot start and jumped out to a 20-10 lead in the opening set, the Knights stormed back and tied the set at 24-24 on a kill by outside hitter Juan De la Hoz. But Coral Reef picked up the next two points on consecutive kills to survive the scare and take the first set.
It was all Knights in the second set, picking up right where their late first-set rally left off to tie the match at 1-1. De la Hoz carried the bulk of Sunset’s offense, finishing with a game-high 22 kills and 14 digs.
In the critical third set, Coral Reef regained control of the match, breaking away from Sunset in the middle stages and holding off any semblance of a comeback.
Coral Reef ended it with a solid defensive effort and an 8-3 run to close out the game. Sunset setter Everett La France had a record-setting night in the loss, setting a school single-season record for assists with 759 after finishing the game with 31 assists.
• S tate play-in — Southwest d. Westland Hialeah 25-10, 25-13, 25-23: The bald Eagles came into the first round of the state play-in with shaved heads in honor of the school’s 2003 state champions with the 31-0 record.
Ricky Feguera led the team with 13 kills and six aces, while William Rodriguez and Alex Garcia assisted in the win with nine kills, two blocks and two digs, respectively.
The Eagles (22-5) will move on to the state quarterfinals against Douglas.
COREY W. CAMPBELL
• State play-in — Mourning d. Chaminade 25-22, 25-13, 25-15: The Sharks defeated the Lions in three sets to win at Mourning Senior High.
Mourning (19-5) will face Bishop Moore in the state quarterfinals on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Kissimmee Civic Center. This is the first boys’ volleyball state tournament win for the Sharks.
Matheus Mera led the Sharks with 13 digs, 11 assists and seven kills. Werner Sabban had nine kills, three assists and a dig. Daniel Barrera had six digs, three kills and three blocks. Daniel Callahan led Chaminade with nine kills and two service points.
Region 4-7A semifinal: Nova at St. Thomas Aquinas, 7
Class 7A state semifinal at Vero Beach Sports Village: St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Harmony, 7
Class 5A state semifinal at Vero Beach Sports Village: American Heritage vs. St. Johns Creekside, 4:30