It only figured that when it’s your birthday, something good should happen.
And for Miami Springs Littler Leaguer Anthony Nuñez, that something came in a big way last Thursday night, July 10.
With his Miami Springs Majors All-Stars trailing Homestead 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning of a District 8 semifinal playoff game and down to its last seven outs, Nuñez, celebrating his 12th birthday, came through in a huge way.
With the tying run in scoring position and two outs, he did a lot more than bring in the tying run with a base hit. He got a high inside fast ball from Homestead pitcher Jamar Fairweather and launched it high and deep into the night, well over the left field fence for a two-run homer that gave his team the lead and spurred them on to a tight, hard-fought 4-2 victory at Pepper Park in North Miami.
And with that, the Springs stars landed a birth in the District 8 championship game this Sunday, July 13 where they will travel to Upper Keys Little League in Key Largo to take on Kendall at 11 a.m. Kendall mercy-ruled North Miami Beach in the other semifinal on Thursday night.
How big of a moment will it be? Considering in the history of all star competition, Miami Springs All-Stars, majors or minors for that matter, have never won a District 8 championship, it will be an awfully big one.
“I was just looking for something I could drive somewhere and I got a high inside fast ball and caught it perfect,” said Nuñez. “I knew it was gone when I hit it and that was a great feeling because it put us in the lead.”
“The fact is Anthony normally hits number two in the lineup and I came up to him before the game tonight and told him I was going to move him to the number seven slot,” said majors head coach Robert Gonzalez-Pino. “I told him that he needed to see more fast balls and there was a better chance of that if I moved him down the lineup. How he handled it showed you what kind of a kid he is as sometimes you might have to deal with a kid who sulks or drops his head. Anthony looked at me and said ‘whatever it takes coach’ and you saw how that paid off tonight. What a clutch moment to come through for his team.”
Things did not get off to a good start for Springs and starting pitcher Yankiel Aguilela. Just three hitters into the game, after Homestead leadoff hitter Kevin Ortiz had reached on a base hit, Victor Mederos launched a shot over the left center field fence for a two-run homer and just like that, the locals found themselves in a 2-0 hole.
“I can’t be more proud of the kids for the way they fought back tonight and didn’t get rattled early,” said Gonzalez-Pino. “When something bad like that happens early, sometimes it can throw kids off their game and then we had that tough break in the third inning and they still managed to keep their poise and battle.
Gonzalez-Pino referred to the last of the third when, after loading the bases with only one out number three hitter Sammy Infante headed to the plate, it appeared Springs was ready to dent the scoreboard.
But Infante laced a hard ground ball right to third base and, after the Homestead third baseman stepped on third for the force out, fired to first to just barely get Infante on a bang-bang play at first despite the objections of Springs coaches who thought he was safe.
Still trailing 2-0, Springs then came up with its big fourth inning and got it started when catcher Roberto Moya, who had already hit three home runs in the north division tournament against North Miami Beach and North Miami, got a one-out fast ball down the middle from Fairweather and hit a tape measure home run to right center that actually cleared the scoreboard.
“He gave me a fast ball right down the middle and it looked like a watermelon,” said Moya. “I caught it flush and drove it.”
“That was a big moment as I think not only the home run itself but how far he hit it really got us going,” said Gonzalez-Pino. “Robert is one of our team’s co-captain’s for a reason. He’s a real leader and always keeps things loose and upbeat in the dugout.”
Albert Sanchez then followed Moya’s shot with an infield base hit and, after advancing to second on a wild pitch, the stage was set for Nuñez’s big shot to complete Springs’ big three-run inning.
Infante had relieved Aguilela in the top of the fourth on the mound and was brilliant as he struck out six batters over the final three innings and allowing just two base runners.
Springs plated a huge insurance run in the last of the fifth when, with one out, Aguilela reached on an infield single. After advancing to third on a pair of wild pitches, Infante was up and struck out. But when the Homestead catcher couldn’t handle the third strike, Infante took off for first. Aguilela timed it perfectly and bolted for home as soon as the throw went down to first, just barely sliding safe under the tag on the throw back home to make it 4-2.
After Homestead’s Danny Lopez led off the top of the sixth with a bunt single, Infante settled in and struck out three batters in a row to end the game.
“It was exciting out there tonight,” said Infante. “I think my hands were shaking out there when that last batter came up. I just wanted to find a way to close things out and I threw my best pitches to get it done. This is a great win tonight because it showed that we can find a way to battle back when things don’t go well early.”