Even though it was only about 100 yards or so, the walk from the softball field at Slade Park in Hialeah to the awaiting bus must have seemed like two miles for members of the Miami Springs High School girls softball team last Tuesday afternoon.
Not only had their District 14-8A semifinal contest against Goleman just ended, but the Lady Hawks’ season had come to a stunning end as well following the Gators 6-5 victory. Slowly, many of them with moist eyes, a few more sobbing, the Springs girls trudged their way to the bus.
A season filled with so much hope back in early February, one that had brought back every returning starter but one from the year before, arguably the best pitcher in the county in Geneva Santos and even talk of a run to the state final four in Vero Beach, had come to an end long before it was expected to end.
A season that had brought a first-ever victory over traditional county power Palmetto in late February and the excitement of head coach Charlie Green notching in 400th career victory in early March was finished.
“Words can’t describe how frustrated and awful I feel right now,” said a sobbing Carolina Acosta who had just seen her four year career at Springs, all as a starter at third base, come to an end. “You work so hard for four years and you just feel like there’s no justice to see it end like this. What an awful feeling.”
There will be no matchup with Coral Gables in the district championship game as had been the case each of the last three years as Springs failed to reach the district championship game (and thus be guaranteed a trip to the regional playoffs) for the first time since 2005. It also marked only the second time since 1998 Springs will not be part of the regional playoffs.
“It’s just so disappointing, especially because we started off the season so well with a quality win over Killian and then beating Palmetto for the first time,” said Green. “Everything appeared to be there but for whatever reason we just could not beat them (Goleman) during the season and it wound up costing us.”
Green spoke of a pair of regular season losses to the Gators including a crucial blown game on Feb. 21 at Virginia Gardens Field in which the Lady Hawks had a two run lead with two outs and two strikes in the last inning only to see Goleman rally to win.
That loss, followed by a 5-2 defeat at Goleman’s field on March 21, wound up costing Springs a first place finish in the district. Instead they were left in a three-way tie with Goleman and Gables for first (Springs defeated Gables twice and Gables beat Goleman twice leaving all three teams deadlocked) prompting a “drawing-numbers-from-the-hat” scenario which did not go Springs’ way as they drew the low number of the three.
With a top-heavy district featuring three good teams in Springs, Goleman and Gables and three struggling programs in Miami Beach, Miami High and Reagan, the importance of finishing first was driven home a few hours after the Springs loss. That’s when top-seeded Gables took the field against No. 4 seed Miami Beach and mowed down the Hi-Tides 14-0 in a mercy-rule shortened game.
“It just drives you crazy because we seemed to play so tight against them in all three games including today,” said Green whose team finished the season 15-4, the only other loss coming to American. “The problem is they (Springs and Goleman players) all know each other from playing travel ball together and I think our girls tended to press so hard when we played them that it showed on the field. Almost all the time, if you play tight, you lose.”
They certainly did on Tuesday. Even though Springs outhit Goleman 8-3, it was a wild streak by Santos in the second inning (four walks and a hit batter) and three huge errors (one at shortstop and two at catcher) in the last of the third that led to all six Goleman runs.
Santos made some quality pitches with two strikes more than once in that second inning but didn’t get the calls. Perhaps frustrated, she eventually lost the strike zone including a crucial two-out walk to Goleman’s No. 9 hitter which kept the inning going and led to two Gator runs.
Springs countered right back in the top of the third when, with one-out, Santos took advantage of a mistake by her cousin, Frances Santos, Goleman’s starting pitcher.
Trying to intentionally walk her, as so many opponents have done to Geneva all season long, Frances got careless with a 3-0 pitch and left it out over the plate. Geneva drilled it down the left field line to the fence for a triple and scored a minute later on a Nicole Fernandez base hit. After Fernandez was forced out on a Crystal Ramos fielders choice, Ramos advanced to second on an error at third base. Taylor Navarro then stepped up and drilled a base hit to center scoring Ramos to tie the game at two.
Then came the disastrous error-plagued third inning for Springs in which Goleman plated four runs despite getting just two hits leaving Springs a 6-2 hole to climb out of which they darn near did.
After scoring once in the fourth to make it 6-3, Tiffany Turman stepped up with two on and two out in the top of the fifth and delivered a clutch two-strike shot to the left field fence scoring both Norma Rodriguez and Crystal Ramos.
She eventually made it down to third on an Amy Martinez infield hit bringing up Nicole Borroto, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup. Santos, the team’s best hitter was on deck dying to get to the plate but could only watch helplessly as Borroto hit a little dribbler to second base for the easy out to end the inning.
“I still felt good at that point because Geneva had settled down on the mound (Santos allowed just one baserunner after the third inning) and we had the top of the lineup coming up in the sixth with Geneva leading off,” said Green.
But the inning would last for less than two minutes as Santos swung at an eye-high fastball on the second pitch, popping out to third base before Fernandez and Ramos each swung at the first pitch hitting little dribbling grounders for easy outs.
“I think it was less than two minutes and the inning was over,” said Green. “Four pitches? You just can’t have that. Late in a one-run game, you have to work pitchers and make them throw strikes. We just were not disciplined enough to do that.”
The top of the seventh arrived and when Navarro wracked up her third hit of the game with one out, there was hope. But hope lasted all of about 60 seconds when Acosta hit the second pitch right back to pitcher Vicky Morales who turned quickly and fired to second for the force and then over to first to double up Acosta for a game and season-ending double play.
“We’ll just go to work now on getting them into school,” said Green who graduates four seniors, Acosta, Fernandez, Martinez and Navarro. “Nina (Acosta) is headed for UM (University of Miami), Taylor is going to Florida Gulf Coast and Nicole and Amy have offers from Edward Waters in Jacksonville. Sure winning games is always great but what’s really important and you can never lose sight of is trying to get these girls into school with some financial help.”