After a seemingly endless array of torturous and brutal losses to Goleman over the last three seasons, many of them of the late-inning blown-lead variety, the Miami Springs girls softball team managed to keep both hands on the steering wheel and not drive the car into a ditch.
This all coming last week when, facing Goleman in the District 15-6A championship game at Virginia Gardens Field, the Lady Hawks, after once again flirting with letting a late-inning lead get away, hung on and knocked off the Gators 8-6 to win their first district title in three years.
And the tension and nailbiting went right down to the very end as Springs right fielder Noella Rivera, with the tying run at the plate, settled in under a two-out fly ball and, even though she looked a little shaky and nervous, reached up with her glove and squeezed the ball prompting a dog-pile celebration by the Springs girls at the mound.
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“It felt like it took that ball an hour and a half to come down to me,” Rivera said with a total look of relief on her face. “I was so glad and so relieved I caught it. I knew I had to catch it not just for me but for my team because of everything we’ve been through with Goleman in the past.”
Even though both teams advance to the regional playoffs, the win was huge for Springs because the loser, Goleman will now have to go on the road and face state-ranked Doral Academy in a regional quarterfinal contest. Doral is a heavy favorite to square off against Pembroke Pines Charter in the regional final.
Meanwhile, Springs will now get to stay and home and play on the friendly confines of VG Field this Thursday night, April 23 where they will host TERRA at 7 p.m. And while the Wolves are also a pretty good team in their own right, the game is a lot more winnable than having to go to Doral.
With a win over TERRA, Springs would still have to face Doral but they would prefer to do it in the regional semis, not the regional quarters.
“I’ve been though all of these tough losses and it was getting so discouraging to finally get over this hump tonight against them in such a big game with so much at stake,” said senior second baseman Tiffany Turman who was by far the offensive star of the night as she went 3-for-4 at the plate, two of them clutch two-out hits with runners in scoring position. “I’ve been waiting, getting pumped up for this game and just try and do what I do in practice and it feels good to come through and help my team.”
Just how tough that seemingly invisible glass ceiling of beating Goleman was became crystal clear in that last tension-filled inning.
After the Gators had already plated a run thanks to a lead off triple by Natalie Costero and subsequent infield groundout by her sister Jessica to make it 8-6, Springs was two outs away from securing the win. Then came a harmless grounder off the bat of Emily Bacallao right back to pitcher Emily Santos. Even though she could’ve probably trotted over and stepped on first herself or simply underhanded an easy toss to first baseman Jasmine Echeverria, at the last second Santos went overhand with it and fired it five feet over Echeverria’s head and the collective groan from the Springs faithful in the crowd was clearly audible.
Instead of nobody on and two outs, it was runner on second and one out with No. 3 hitter Micheline Oliva coming up for the Gators.
But, before anyone barely had time to fret with ‘here we go again,’ came the defensive play of the night, and perhaps the year for the Hawks.
It came when Oliva ripped a laser shot that appeared to be headed up the middle and into center field. But Springs shortstop Yoselyn Escoto lunged to her left and not only got to the ball to field it cleanly but squared up and fired a bullet to first base to just barely get Oliva for the second out. Julia Viana then stepped up for Goleman and hit the fly ball to Rivera in right to end the contest.
“It took everything I had at that moment to try and settle myself down because we had worked so hard to get to the point and come so close to closing the game out,” said Santos of her overthrow to first base which was actually her second one of the game, the only two Springs errors all night. “Then something like that happens and you feel like you’ve let your whole team down. I just had to settle myself down, take a deep breath and play with everything I had within me and throw strikes.”
Springs entered last week’s championship having lost seven of the previous eight games to Goleman dating back to the 2013 season (six regular season, two postseason). The most painful of those might have been last year in the district final when Springs saw a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning with the best pitcher in the county in Geneva Santos (Emily’s cousin) on the mound, somehow turn into an 8-4 loss thanks to a bushel of errors.
Looking to avenge that loss during the regular season this year, Springs led both times into the sixth inning only to see the Gators overtake them with a pair of one-run victories.
“I’m just happy for the girls because it’s been rough for a lot of them who have been through all these frustrating losses,” said Springs head coach Charlie Green who has probably tossed a few bats in the dugout himself during the losing stretch. “Heck, we had them beat both times earlier this year and then just gave the game away with errors late in the game. It’s a great win for all of them, they earned this tonight, especially after falling behind early on. They could have gone ‘here we go again’ but instead fought back.”
Green referred to the fact that, after his team grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first thanks to the first of those two-out RBI hits by Turman, Goleman came back with two unearned runs in the last of the first (Santos’ first overthrow to first base which scored two runners) and then added two more in the second on a two-out, two-run single up the middle by Natalie Costero.
So here were the Springs girls, down 4-1 and it looked like it would be a night of more Goleman torture again.
But, in the very next inning, after Brianna Gomez drew a two-out walk and Santos followed with a double down the left field line to put runners at second and third, Turman came up again and drilled a shot in between shortstop and third that Gators shortstop Oliva managed to get to. But her long throw to first wasn’t nearly in time and when it got past the first baseman Santos trotted home as well to make it 4-3 and give the Hawks a much-needed jolt of hope.
Still trailing by one in the top of the fifth, Springs finally was the beneficiary rather than the donator of key errors. When Oliva and third baseman Jessica Costero both made huge two-out errors, that allowed the Hawks to score twice and take a 5-4 lead. Springs got the added insurance runs it would need by scoring three more times in top of the sixth and it was the bottom of the lineup this time that came through. Getting the rally started was Echevveria (No. 6 in the lineup) who led the inning off with a base hit. One out later, Alicia Negrin (No. 8) was hit by a pitch and Rivera, the No. 9 hitter got only her second hit of the season to right center driving in Echevveria from second.
Two batters later, Gomez came through with a two-RBI hit to right center to make it 8-4 and those two runs wound up being the difference in the game.
“It wasn’t the way we wanted to come out,” said Santos referring to the early deficit. “But we somehow managed to turn that into energy and fought back which was really great to see that we had that in us.”