Columbus spent most of this season trying to figure out how to beat Southwest and its ace, Jason Grana.
The Explorers found the answer Thursday afternoon.
The response included a no-hitter from its own ace, Andy Arguelles, and two home runs from right fielder Hernen Sardinas that propelled Columbus to a 9-0 rout of the host Eagles in a Region 4-9A semifinal at Andre Dawson Field.
Columbus (19-9), which had lost its previous three games against Southwest (14-14) this season, including a dramatic district-championship game in extra innings, advanced to the regional finals for the second consecutive season.
The Explorers, who won the Class 8A state championship last season, will play at Coral Park on Tuesday for a chance to make it back to the final four.
“[Arguelles] pounds the strike zone and gives us a chance to win every time he goes out there,” Columbus coach Joe Weber said. “You want to take care of pitchers early in the year and make sure they are healthy at the end. I want the guys that can win the games in April and May, and I’ll take one like Andy any time.”
Arguelles, a senior left-hander who pitched only eight innings of relief last season for Columbus, threw his third no-hitter of the season and improved his record to 12-1. His only loss was a pitcher’s duel with Grana earlier this season that Southwest won 2-1.
After surrendering a walk in each of the first two innings, Arguelles retired the next 13 batters he faced until a fielding error in the sixth allowed a baserunner.
Fittingly, Arguelles helped record the final out in the seventh when he covered the bag at first after a great diving stop by first baseman Danny Bello on a ground ball.
Arguelles finished with 11 strikeouts and three walks.
It was the first time Southwest was no-hit by an opposing pitcher since Florida Christian and University of Miami alum Bryan Radziewski blanked the Eagles in 2010.
“There was definitely a revenge factor [Thursday] because we did not want to lose to them four times in one year,” Arguelles said. “The no-hitter is a great accomplishment, but I was only thinking first and foremost about winning this game.”
Grana had been crucial to Southwest’s success this season, winning 11 of his 12 starts this season, including two against Columbus, and a third victory in relief. The Eagles made their first appearance in the regional semifinals since 1999, also the last time they advanced to the state final four.
But Grana’s 13th start, which set a single-season school record, was by far his worst of the season.
Columbus tagged Grana for one run in the third and another in the fourth on a single by Mike Fernandez and double by Bello.
Sardinas delivered the biggest blows that put the game out of reach.
His one-out grand slam in the top of the sixth capped a five-run inning that crushed any fleeting hopes Southwest had of a comeback.
The towering shot over the right-field wall came one inning after a two-out solo blast in the fifth gave Columbus a 3-0 lead and began the onslaught.
Grana finished with eight strikeouts, but Mike Fernandez’s single in the third and Bello’s double in the fourth delivered the first two Columbus runs.
Sardinas said one of the team’s strategies was to try and crowd the plate and take advantage of Grana’s tendency to pitch inside. After hitting only four batters with pitches the entire season, Grana hit four Columbus batters in Thursday’s game.
“He usually works away on lefties, which means he’ll try to come in on the righties, so if we crowd the plate we knew we would make him work,” Sardinas said.
COL 001 125 0 - 9 9 1
SW 000 000 0 - 0 0 2
WP: Andy Arguelles (12-1). LP: Jason Grana (11-2).