Suffice it to say that there have been very few opportunities far and between for the Miami Springs baseball team to do the traditional “dog pile celebration” following a watershed moment.
But one of those rare moments came last Thursday (April 24) at 6 p.m. when Goleman hitter Kevin Perez tried to check his swing on a 2-2 count but couldn’t and strike three was called.
And out of the dugout poured the joyous members of the Golden Hawks baseball team, mobbing pitcher Dylan Carter and jumping on top of each other, dog pile style, as they had just knocked off Goleman 6-5 in the District 15-6A championship game to win their first district title since 2007.
Fittingly, they did it right in front of their home fans, right there at Shelly Dunkel Field at Springs High School. And who was in the audience as one of the rooting fans? Coach Dunk himself, a recent MSSH Hall of Fame inductee who made the trip up from his home in the southwest to pull for his Golden Hawks.
“Unbelievable!” yelled Springs head coach Willie Vasquez, normally a cool, calm and collected character. “My job when I came back to this school last year was to bring this program back to when Phil Wisser (ex-baseball coach now at Coral Gables) left it seven years ago when we were on top of the world having won a district title and gone to the regional semifinals. I wanted to bring that back and can you believe it, here we are standing here today, what a feeling.”
But Vasquez’s “great feeling” didn’t come without plenty of tense moments including the very end when he nervously paced the dugout watching his starting pitcher Dylan Carter, running on fumes trying to find the finish line.
Thanks to a dramatic grand slam home run by Austin Voeller in the top of the fifth (Springs was the visiting team by virtue of being the No. 2 seed), the Hawks dugout exploded as a precarious 2-1 lead was now 6-1 and they only needed nine more outs.
After Carter retired the side in order in the fifth, he ran into trouble in the sixth as the Gators put runners on second and third with no outs. Just when it looked like he would work his way out of it following in an infield pop out, strike out and routine ground ball to third, third baseman Marlon Castillo took something off his throw to first base. When the short-hop throw got past Voeller at first, both runs scored and it was suddenly 6-3.
The tension built in the last of the seventh when, with one out and a runner on first, Goleman hitter Eric Delgado laced a line drive to left field. Springs left fielder Yoandry Perez gambled and went for the diving catch. He lost the gamble as the ball squirted under him and all the way to the left field fence bringing a run in and leaving Delgado at third.
If the Springs faithful didn’t have their hearts in their throats at that moment, they did a minute later when Goleman’s Carlos Garrido launched a towering drive to left field that had game-tying home run written all over it.
But perhaps on a day where the baseball Gods were looking out for the Hawks, a slight breeze blowing in held the ball back slightly and Perez, with his back literally at the fence, brought it in. Delgado tagged and trotted home from third to make it 6-5.
That brought up Kevin Perez with nobody on and two outs and, with a 2-2 count, started to bite on a high inside fastball before holding up. But not enough according to the home plate umpire who punched him out on the check swing, much to the shock and disagreement of Perez and the Goleman faithful, kicking off the Springs celebration.
“Probably the longest three outs of my life,” said Carter of that last inning and who we might ad is a proud product and graduate of Miami Springs Little League. “With this heat, I won’t kid you, I was sucking air, I was dead tired and I reached down for every last ounce of energy I had in me. I don’t even know what to say. I told this team get my back and I’ll get yours and go all seven for you and that’s how it went down. What a feeling. We shocked the world today!”
“My pitchers, they have the biggest guts I’ve ever seen in my life and Dylan just stepped out there today and was a real bulldog,” said Vasquez. “He’s been like that all year. He said before the game ‘hand me the ball and I’m giving you seven’ and darned if that’s what he didn’t go out there and do.”
All the bravado aside, Vasquez clearly recognized that his “bulldog” pitcher was on his last legs and was ready to go out there and take the ball from him.
“If he had walked that last batter I probably would’ve had to go out and get him but fortunately he didn’t force me to make that decision,” said Vasquez. “And I was glad I didn’t have to because if any pitcher ever deserved to finish a game, it was Dylan right there.”
Springs was already moving on to the regional quarterfinals next week, win or lose but with the win will now get to host the game on Thursday, May 1 at 4 p.m. The task will be a daunting one though as their opponent will be a very talented Belen Jesuit team that will come in smarting off a 1-0 upset loss to Mater Academy in their District 16-6A final.
“I had struggled my first two times up to bat but this time I stayed back in the box a little more and when he hung me a curve ball inside, that was downtown for me and I turned on it,” said Voeller of his big moment. “I knew it was gone the second it left my bat and what a great feeling.”
Goleman will travel to Westland Gardens Park to take on Mater that same day at 7 p.m. in their respective regional quarterfinal. Should Springs and Goleman both win, they would be right back at it again at Dunkel Field in a regional semifinal on May 6.
“It wasn’t about any one player, we all worked on this together,” said Voeller. “You only accomplish something like this when you come together as a team. We definitely struggled during the early part of the season but as the weeks moved on, you could tell we were really starting to come together and it showed on the field as we really started winning.”