The Monsignor Pace baseball team has 17 seniors who still have a sour taste in their mouths from a 1-0 state semifinal loss to Bishop Verot that ended their junior seasons last year.
Now, the Spartans find themselves in the same round in the Class 4A playoffs. This time, the seniors understand there won’t be a second chance like there was last season.
A loss would mean their high school baseball careers are over, but a victory against Ocala Trinity Catholic on Monday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers would put Pace in position for its seventh state baseball championship — and first since 2006.
“Last year we were sort of upset how they showed in that first game there,” Spartans coach Tom Duffin said. “We played a good Bishop Verot team. We just felt we didn’t play to our best ability, especially offensively.”
Duffin hopes the more seasoned group will come out with the right approach to the big game.
“They seem to have been able to mature and not get caught up too much in the hype of the games,” he said. “What have they learned? It’s yet to be seen. We can go there and possibly do the same thing and be starstruck. We can hope that we’re not. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to handle whatever pressures the state tournament holds and comes our way.”
The Spartans (22-6-1) will lean on their two aces on the mound — right handed Luis Deville and lefty Jonathan Hernandez. Duffin has not decided which one of the two seniors will get the ball against Trinity Catholic.
“Johnny and Luis are both, in my opinion, equally as strong, and I guess depending on what we can match up with [will determine who] we’ll start,” Duffin said.
“I don’t mind starting either one of them to be honest with you.”
The ideal situation for Pace would be to have one go deep into the semifinal and have the other take the mound in the final, which would be played Tuesday against the winner of Bishop Verot and Pensacola Catholic, last season’s 4A state champion.
Duffin also is prepared to bring in whichever pitcher doesn’t start out of the bullpen if things don’t go smoothly. He said he will not be looking ahead to the state final as he understands Pace needs to advance to it first.
Another pitcher the Spartans can use is Alex Perez, who lost that 1-0 state semifinal as the No. 1 starter on last year’s team and is finally healthy after recovering from a lower back strain.
“If we have to go to him, I feel we don’t lose anything at all,” Duffin said. “It’s just another bullet in our chamber that we can use.”
Perez’s lower back is not the only injury that has hampered Pace. The Spartans have had a laundry list of injuries — senior catcher Anthony de la Cruz missed three-fourths of the regular season with elbow tendinitis and shortstop Bryan Bermudez was out the latter third of the year with a pulled groin. They haven’t been able to run a set lineup where every player is in his true position.
“We never had what we envisioned to be our starting unit until the last few playoff games,” Duffin said.
That said, the Spartans are getting healthy at the right time and with their closest playoff game a 5-0 win against St. Brendan, they are in shape to make a run at the state title. If there’s one thing that can heal the pain — not only from injuries, but also from last season’s loss — it would be a dog pile on the mound of JetBlue Park after a pair of state wins.
TRACK AND FIELD
St. Thomas Aquinas budding sprint star Krystal Sparling will be in the mix for a berth in the Adidas Grand Prix Dream 100 if she can pull off an upset in the Golden South Classic at Orlando First Academy on Saturday.
A victory by Sparling, the third seed (11.55), over Carmiesha Cox (11.48), Chelsea Francis (11.55) and American Heritage’s Diamond Spaulding (11.56), would earn Sparling the automatic berth in the event in New York on May 25.
“Krystal has a great chance to win it,” Aquinas coach Alex Armenteros said. “The times are not that far apart from the other girls. In the 100, there is no room for error. Incredible top-end speed is what Krystal has working for her. She closes very well.”
Sparling is coming off runner-up finishes in the 100- and 200-meters at the Class 4A state finals, which helped propel the Aquinas girls’ team to their ninth state title and first since 2005. Her 11.55 personal best in the 100 ranks No. 4 in Florida.
The girls’ 100 hurdles has a distinct Broward flavor led by Hallandale’s Lia King, Boyd Anderson’s Daeshon Gordon, Upperroom Christian’s Adanaca Brown and American Heritage’s Khadeeja Dooling.
Kali Davis-White, Boyd Anderson’s newly minted state record-holder in the 200 (23.05), leads that race along with Spaulding and Hallandale’s Regine Williams.
American Heritage’s Jerimy Strainge and Khari Herbert Jr., part of the nation’s No. 5–ranked 1,600-relay team, will also be looking to make some noise.
Strainge (20.97, U.S legal No. 5), the Class 2A state champion in the 200, finds himself the No. 4 seed behind Kendal Williams (20.63, wind-aided U.S. No. 2), Levonte Whitfield (20.66, wind-aided No. 3) and Ceolamar Ways (20.88).
Herbert (47.31), a state-runner-up, meanwhile, will have his hands full trying to knock off Reggie Glover (46.40), the top seed in the 400.
“Jerimy and Khari have been getting up at 4:30 in the morning before school to get in their work,’’ Heritage coach Corey Hicks said. “They have been totally focused and on a mission. We have been able to ramp up on speed work that we didn’t get a chance to do before the State Finals. I want to go out and say we’ll probably looking for a 20.6 for Jerimy and a 46 for Khari on Saturday.”
Prince Foster of American’s boys’ basketball team signed a letter of intent to attend Saint Petersburg State. Last season, the Miami Herald Second-Team All-Dade selection averaged 17 points per game to lead the Patriots to a 20-6 record.