Baseball | Class 3A semifinal: Coral Springs Christian vs. North Florida Christian

Crusaders in a star-filled battle

 

Last Week’s Best Performances

TEAMS OF THE WEEK

University of Maryland signee Meghan King threw a one-hitter and struck out 12, Rachel Collins drove in the winning run, and the St. Thomas Aquinas softball team (30-2, MaxPreps Xcellent 25 No. 25) beat Harmony 1-0 for its second consecutive Class 7A state title.

Pines Charter ace Claire Blount pitched a complete-game shutout as the Pines Charter softball team (22-6) beat Lake Region 3-0 in the Class 6A State championship game.

In a drama-packed bottom half of the seventh inning, Lauren Newmark’s double drove in the game-tying run and Jenna Goodrich’s suicide-squeeze bunt scored the winning run as the Plantation American Heritage softball team (25-6) stormed back from an eight-run deficit and stunned Belleview 11-10 for the Class 5A state title.

ATHLETES OF THE WEEK

James Buckley, Coral Springs Christian, baseball: Buckley went 2 for 3 with a home run, double and three RBI to lift the Crusaders (23-7) over Westminster Christian 8-4 in the Class 3A regional finals.

Nicholas Rusk, St. Thomas Aquinas, boys’ volleyball: Rusk had 28 kills to spark a rally that fell short as Aquinas fell in five sets to Tampa Berkeley Prep in the Class 7A state semifinals.

Mack Nathanson, North Broward Prep, baseball: Nathanson’s walk-off home run capped a 5-4 comeback victory over Key West in the Class 4A regional finals.

Colton Welker, Douglas, baseball: Welker went 3 for 3 with two RBI but the Eagles fell 4-3 to Park Vista in the Class 8A regional finals.

Ryan Dodge, Flanagan, baseball: Dodge hit a home run and had two RBI as the Falcons squandered a 3-1 lead and were upset 5-3 by South Dade in the Class 8A regional finals.

FABIAN LYON


Call it Star Wars — of the prep baseball variety.

When Coral Springs Christian Academy and Tallahassee’s North Florida Christian meet Wednesday in a Class 3A state semifinal, a projected first-round pick, three Florida State recruits and several other highly touted players will be sharing the same field.

CSCA (23-7), making its first appearance at state, is led by senior right-hander Touki Toussaint, a Vanderbilt recruit who is expected to skip college and go pro because of a fastball that can hit 97 mph. He is 8-2 with a 1.22 ERA in 13 appearances, including 12 starts, and Baseball America considers him first-round material.

NFC (24-4), which last won state in 2011, is led by 6-4 senior left-hander Carson Sands, a Florida State recruit who is 7-1 with a 0.47 ERA. As a freshman in 2011, he earned a complete-game victory in the state final, beating Orangewood Christian, 8-4.

But since Toussaint and Sands both pitched in Saturday’s regional finals, they will probably be saved for a hoped-for Thursday state championship, where they would be throwing on four days of rest.

Not to worry. Both teams have quality alternatives at the ready for Wednesday’s 10 a.m. state semifinal, which is set for JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.

CSCA could use No. 2 starter Eric Hepple, a Central Florida recruit. The senior right-hander is 6-0, 0.64 in 10 games, including eight starts.

NFC has two more FSU recruits — they are committed to the Seminoles but not yet signed — 6-3 junior right-hander Cole Sands (4-1, 1.78) and 6-4 sophomore lefty Cole Ragans (4-1, 0.79).

CSCA Coach Matt Cleveland, whose team won three of four games earlier this season against elite competition at the National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C., doesn’t believe his team will be intimidated by the NFC pitching staff.

“Even though they are committed to Florida State, their kids are still in high school just like our kids,” Cleveland said. “It’s just a matter of having good at-bats and making them work and competing.”

Cleveland, 34, is in his 12th season coaching CSCA. He was a minor-league shortstop in the Kansas City Royals chain — Class A ball — when he got the job with the Crusaders. He was 23 at the time, and the program was just a few years old.

He has since grown the program into a power, winning district titles in each of the past five years. Last season was the first time the Crusaders earned a regional playoff win, and this is their first chance at state glory.

“It’s gratifying that we’ve been able to break through — it’s taken a lot of patience, hard work and belief,” he said. “But I’m not focused on the accomplishment right now. We’re trying to finish the job.”

It would certainly help if the Crusaders continue to hit the way they have in the playoffs so far, where they have averaged 9.8 runs in six games.

Toussaint, even if he doesn’t pitch, is a great athlete who is hitting a hard .340, leading the team in doubles (9), homers (3) and tied for the lead in slugging percentage (.532).

Hepple is hitting .357 with a team-high 28 RBI.

Senior catcher Benito Santiago, son of the former big-league backstop of the same name, is a Tennessee recruit who leads the team in batting average (.416), on-base percentage (.489) and on base plus slugging (1021).

Among the team’s other hitting stars are senior outfielder Chris Bec, a Tennessee recruit; speedy leadoff hitter and defensive star Pemron Burrows, who plays center field and leads the team in triples (3) and runs scored (34); junior shortstop James Buckley; and senior third baseman Cary Boniske, who has a .449 on-base percentage and leads the team with 23 walks.

Pitching depth comes from a trio of right-handers who have banded together to make up for the season-long injury loss of Miami Hurricanes recruit Devin Meyer. The trio includes senior Jeremiah Muhammad, a reliever with a 1.60 ERA who leads the team with 16 appearances; senior Colin Taylor (3-2, 3.68) and junior Ricky Miranda (3-0, 3.57).

TUESDAY’S SCHEDULE

BASEBALL

Region 4-6A final at Pines Flamingo Park: Mater Academy vs. Pines Charter, 7

Region 4-5A final: Archbishop McCarthy at Rockledge, 7

Region 4-2A final: Brito at Zion Lutheran, 4

Read more Broward High Schools stories from the Miami Herald

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