KEY LARGO – A great run by the Miami Springs Majors All-Stars Little League baseball team came to a tough end last Sunday afternoon, July 13.
Making the trip south to Key Largo Community Park, the Springs stars, coming off a dramatic come-from-behind win over Homestead three days earlier in a District 8 semifinal playoff game, ran into the immovable force in the Kendall All-Stars.
Sporting unbelievable power, Kendall overcame an early 2-0 deficit with an 18-hit onslaught including two long home runs to record a 10-5 victory over Springs to win the District 8 championship game and advance to next week’s sectional tournament at Federal Field in Ft. Lauderdale. The Springs kids were hoping to make history on this day as no Miami Springs majors team had ever won a District 8 title.
“What a terrific and valiant effort today by our kids,” said majors head coach Robert Gonzalez-Pino. “You have to give credit to Kendall as they really have a talented team and our kids battled them all the way to the finish but in the end, it was just too much to overcome.”
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Talented Kendall team? Here was a club that had outscored its previous two opponents (12-0 over Homestead and 34-0 over North Miami Beach in a district semifinal) by a combined 46-0.
Gonzalez-Pino, along with assistant coaches Pete Hernandez and Mario Ruiz watched with delight as their Springs stars got off to exactly the start they needed.
After starting pitcher Sammy Infante retired Kendall without a run in the top of the first (which is rare when Kendall gets shut out in an inning), Springs came to bat in the bottom of the first. With Yankiel Aguila, who reached on a one-out base hit up the middle, standing on second base and two outs, catcher Roberto Moya got a hold of a two-strike Carlos Rodriguez fast ball and sent it over the right field fence for a two-run homer and stake his team to a 2-0 lead.
“I got a fast ball outside and just went with the pitch and drove it,” said Moya. “It was a big moment because we wanted to get out to a quick start and really let them (Kendall) know we were ready for them but unfortunately we just couldn’t sustain that momentum.”
Indeed as Kendall had a quick answer for Moya’s blast when Matthew Cordas “went yard” with a two-run shot in the top of the second to tie the game. Kendall then took a 4-2 lead in the top of the third when Matthew Krtausch did the same thing.
It was here that the game turned and things began to open up for Kendall as Springs enjoyed its best offensive opportunity of the game in the last of the third.
After Richard Hernandez struck out to start the inning, Rodriguez lost the strike zone and walked three consecutive Springs batters (Enrique Bradfield, Peter Hernandez Jr. and Nick Vera) to bring up, guess who, Moya with the bases loaded and one out.
And the Springs catcher did not disappoint as he launched another deep ball to right field that had grand slam written all over it. But Kendall right fielder Adrian Fiqueroa, with his back literally against the fence, reached up and caught it for the second out. Bradfield tagged up at third and scored to make it 4-3 and the other two runners tagged up as well giving Albert Sanchez a second and third, two out situation. Sanchez made good contact but laced a sharp grounder right at Kendall shortstop who calmly field it and stepped on second for the inning-ending force out.
Then came the top of the fourth and the beginning of the end for Springs as Kendall sent 11 men to the plate, laced out a total of seven base hits and when the dust had cleared, had plated five runs to open up a 9-3 lead pretty much ending the issue.
But the runs did not come off of Infante, who Gonzalez-Pino, despite not having his other two top pitchers, Vera and Aguila available, pulled off the mound after three innings and 61 pitches (a kid can throw up to 85 in a game).
“I knew Sammy hadn’t reached the max yet but between the midday heat and the fact that he had thrown 46 pitches against Homestead three days earlier, that’s 107 pitches and enough was enough,” said Gonzalez-Pino. “You have to be thinking about the future of kids, not always winning the big game.”
Gonzalez-Pino was less than thrilled when he found out Sunday morning that Vera, his number one pitcher had fired 78 pitches the day before playing for another one of his travel ball teams.
Technically it had nothing to do with Little League and legally Vera could’ve thrown but Gonzalez-Pino didn’t even consider it.
“Not a chance he was ever going to get near the mound,” said Gonzalez-Pino. “It was never an option. We had plenty of confidence that the arms available could get it done but it just didn’t happen.”
On top of not having Vera, Gonzalez-Pino couldn’t go to his third ace, Aguila, either because he had just barely gone over the 50-pitch count against Homestead (he threw 54 pitches) prompting the 72-hour rest rule rather than 48.
Angel Mediavilla started the inning for Springs and eventually Sanchez replaced him but both struggled to get outs in an inning that took more than 45 minutes.
“That was definitely the turning point because we were certainly right there down by just a run going into that inning,” said Gonzalez-Pino. “But again, you can’t necessarily look at what we didn’t do as opposed to what Kendall did. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to your opponent.”
There would’ve been no tipping of any caps to anyone on Sunday had not the Springs kids put on a nifty rally three nights earlier just to get themselves into the championship game.
Trailing Homestead 2-0 going to the last of the fourth in the District 8 semifinal at Pepper Park in North Miami, Springs rallied for three runs on a pair of home runs, a solo shot by Moya to cut the lead in half and then a clutch, two-out, two-run blast by Springs resident Anthony Nuñez that ultimately paved the way for a 4-2 victory.
“I can’t be more pleased and proud of the job Robert (Gonzalez-Pino) and his coaches did with this majors team,” said Miami Springs Little League President Otto Camejo who made the trip down to Key Largo for the game. “Hopefully this paves the way for much more success in the future.”