FORT MYERS -- After winning five state titles in a 10-year span from 1996-06, eight years without one must have seemed like an eternity for the Brito Miami Private baseball program.
But that drought came to a resounding end late Tuesday afternoon when the Panthers overcame a rocky start to put a 14-2 five-inning, mercy-rule pounding on Naples Seacrest Country Day in the Class 2A state championship game at JetBlue Park.
“I’m very happy, it’s what we’ve been working hard for all year and was the goal we had,” said Brito head coach Pedro Guerra, who is enjoying his second state title as the Panthers coach. “Even though we had five previous state championships, technically none of them had ever been in 2A so we consider that a new accomplishment for our program.”
The Brito victory marked the third state title for Miami-Dade County teams following South Dade and American last weekend, marking the first time since 1985 (Hialeah-Miami Lakes, Monsignor Pace, Interamerican) and only the fourth time ever, that three Dade teams have won titles in the same year.
Mater Academy, which plays its semifinal on Wednesday at 1 p.m. against St. Johns Creekside, will have a chance to put Dade in the record books as a possible fourth champion.
The way the game started, it looked like the Panthers (21-8) may have been guilty of taking the overachieving Stingrays — making their first state appearance and sporting three eighth-graders and three freshmen in their starting lineup — too lightly.
Brito starter Hector Garcia struggled pitching to just five Seacrest batters walking two and giving up a single and a double and the stunned Panthers found themselves in a 2-0 hole.
Enter sophomore Richard Nunez — who pitched just two innings all year — who coolly retired the next two batters to get his team out of the first-inning jam. Then the big Brito bats responded immediately with four runs in the bottom of the first and put the game out of reach after sending 15 batters to the plate in a nine-run, second inning to make it 13-2.
The only drama left after the first two innings was to see if somebody could clear the Green Monster left field wall, and senior Mauricio Amaral hit a towering drive over the wall in the third inning that barely stayed fair for his 12th home run of the year to complete the scoring.
Amaral said the rough start didn’t faze him or his teammates one bit.
Even though he only wound up pitching 2 1/3 innings, Nunez wound up being the pitcher of record, his first high school victory.
“I think it’s a really cool thing that we’ve all accomplished it,” said Amaral when asked about Dade’s three state titles. “Yesterday when we came out to pregame I knew South Dade had won but didn’t know American had won. When somebody told me, I turned to my teammate Julio Gonzalez and said ‘We’re next,’ we’ve got to come through and we did.”
SCD 200 00 – 2 3 2
BRI 491 0X – 14 10 0
WP: Richard Nunez (1-0); LP: Josue Rivera (1-1)
Top performers: BRITO – JC Milan 3-for-4, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI, Mauricio Amaral 3-for-3, HR, 2 2Bs, 3 RBI, Laz Gonzalez 1-for-2, 2 RBI