It has become an annual rite of spring – Palmetto vs. Coral Reef High in the Region 4-9A semifinal, two longtime district rivals, schools four miles apart, battling it out with their eyes on the state final four.
And, for the second year in a row, Palmetto first baseman Lauren Margolis — cousin of Coral Reef athletic director Deb Margolis — belted a home run over the fence to break the Barracudas’ hearts. With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday night, Margolis ripped a grand slam over the Palmetto Bay Park right field fence to give the Panthers a 7-4 lead that Reef was unable to overcome.
A year ago at the same park, Margolis, then a freshman, hit a walk-off homer in the ninth inning to beat the Cudas 9-8 and advance to the Regional final, and eventually the state semifinal game.
“I am speechless,” Margolis said after the game. “I can’t describe how I feel right now. I have so many senior friends on the team and I wanted to do it for them. I just wanted to put the ball into the outfield and bring someone home. I didn’t expect it to clear the fence. I’m at a loss for words.”
Palmetto coach Emilio Exposito said he expected Margolis to “find a way” to come through.
“Lauren has been my clean-up hitter since Day One because she always gets the job done, no matter the situation,” Exposito said. “I had no doubt when she went up to the plate that she’d break that tie and put us ahead.”
Reef had taken a 3-0 lead in the top of the third on RBI from Janessa Casanas, Janelle Boyd and Amanda Grullon, and then Palmetto senior Janelle Dominguez hit a three-run homer to tie it up in the bottom of the third. Barracudas first baseman Katerina Boix got Reef out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth with a huge defensive double play, making an infield catch and then racing to tag out a runner at the plate.
Five years in a row the Miami schools have met in the regional semis. Palmetto dominated the sport for many years, reaching 10 state final fours and three state championships. But Coral Reef got in the way for three straight years, and now Palmetto has the edge with two regional semi wins in a row.
Sisters Hannah Burge (3 for 3) and Katie Burge (3 for 4) also had big games for the Panthers.
Palmetto will face Coral Gables on Friday in a region final.
▪ Region 4-4A Final: Westminster Christian 3, Chaminade-Madonna 1: In the other game at Palmetto Bay Park, Westminster Christian advanced to the state final four for the fourth consecutive year.
Senior right fielder Ashley Castano drove in two runners with a double and also made a potentially game-winning catch in the sixth inning. Senior centerfielder Nikkia Benitez went 1 for 2 with a sac fly RBI. All three runs came in the fourth inning.
Adriana Otero’s leadoff double in the bottom of the fourth started that big inning. After Otero tagged on Brooklyn Maguire’s line drive to right field, Benitez scored Otero on a sacrifice fly to deep left field. With two outs, Westminster Christian got consecutive bloop singles from Daniella Amador and Maddie Hefty. Castano followed with a 2-run double.
Chaminade-Madonna answered in the top of the sixth with one run on a sacrifice fly to right field that was chased down by Castano. Victoria Perez, relieving Maguire with one out in the sixth, halted the rally with a runner stranded at second.
Maguire (10-2) recorded the win, allowing three hits and striking out five in 5 1/3 innings. Perez pitched the final 1 2/3 innings, including a perfect seventh inning, to record the save. Chaminade finished the season 18-7.
▪ Region 4-8A semifinal: St. Thomas Aquinas 11, Boca Raton-Spanish River 1 (5 inn.): The visiting Sharks jumped to a 1-0 lead but with their starting pitcher out with an injury sustained over the weekend, that first inning was one of few highlights.
The host Raiders (21-9) got the bats going in a five-run second and rolled into a regional showdown against longtime softball rival Cooper City. Aquinas will visit Cooper City on Friday night with the winner advancing to next week’s state final four in Vero Beach.
“Cooper City has a great program, and there’s a long tradition of us meeting in regional finals over the years,” Aquinas coach Bryan Baucom said. “It is going to be a battle and will come down to good pitching, defense and timely hitting. It’s an old-school rivalry; for 23 years I have been coaching, we have battled in softball.”
Spanish River concludes its season 16-7.