Having come up a run short in last year’s regional final, the Eagles of Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian got to see how the other half lives on Thursday afternoon.
When first baseman Victor Pimentel reeled in a foul ball right against the fence, Eagles players stormed the field for the traditional dog-pile celebration as they hung on and edged SLAM Academy 6-5 in a Region 4-4A baseball final at Gibson Park in Miami.
Calvary Christian, which lost to Gulliver Prep by the same score in last year’s regional final, clinched its first berth in the state final four and will take on Tampa Berkeley Prep in a 4A state semifinal at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers at 1 p.m. May 13.
It was only fitting that Pimentel made the last out as it was his fifth-inning solo home run that turned out to be the difference as it staked the Eagles to a 6-3 lead. It came just one batter after Calvary Christian catcher and FIU commit Max Guzman blasted an outside fastball from Cristobal Arenas deep over the right-center-field fence for a three-run homer that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead.
“No doubt about it, the biggest moment of the game and a clear momentum swinger,” said first year Calvary Christian coach Alan Kunkel, who coached Orlando Orangewood Christian to final four appearances in 2010 and 2011. “When things have been tough for us, Max has been there all year for this team, and he really came through in a big moment for us [Thursday].”
Guzman had 11 home runs this season before he stepped up to the plate but agreed that his 12th was the biggest swing of his team’s season.
“When I got up there I just thought that this was the time I needed to come through for my team,” said Guzman, who played his freshman and sophomore years at St. Brendan. “I had a feeling he [Arenas] was going to try and slip a fastball past me and he gave me a fastball away. I just went with it and drove it opposite field and knew it when it went off my bat. What a fantastic moment.”
With the Calvary dugout still celebrating Guzman’s homer, Pimentel stepped up and drilled an 0-1 fastball over the left-field fence.
“My adrenaline was really pumping after greeting Max at the plate so I just went up there looking for something early in the count thinking the pitcher would try to get ahead in the count,” said Pimentel who committed to South Florida last week. “I got a fast ball on the first pitch and missed it. I got another one on the second pitcher and wasn’t going to miss that one.”
The Eagles (19-9) fell behind early when the Titans (20-9) scored two runs off Calvary starter and University of Florida commit Christian Scott in the first inning. SLAM’s Jose Garcia, who enjoyed a huge day having already doubled in a run in the first, drove in Jeter Downs with an RBI single in the third and the Titans led 3-0.
But Calvary began its road back in the fourth when Tommy Orr doubled to score Guzman and Luis Ezra followed by a sacrifice fly to right to make it 3-2.
Garcia wasn’t done as he stepped up in the bottom of the fifth and launched a deep drive over the left-field fence to a two-run homer, chasing Scott from the mound. The Titans eventually loaded the bases with two outs in the inning before Noah Yager took the mound and struck out No. 9 hitter Brian Vargas to end the inning.
It turned out to be the last chance for SLAM as Yager impressively retired the side in order the last two innings to close things out.
▪ Region 4-5A semifinal — Monsignor Pace 4, Gulliver 2: For the second consecutive week, Monsignor Pace rallied to keep its season alive. One week after rallying to beat Key West, the Spartans came through with a three-run fifth inning to rally past Gulliver Prep at Pace High School.
Pace advances to the regional final where the Spartans (25-4) will play at Pompano Beach High School on Tuesday.
Gulliver took a 2-1 lead into the last of the fifth before Pace put together its rally off Raiders starter Robert Touron.
After Brandon Cruz drew a leadoff walk and was sacrficed down to second, Anthony Sanabria walked and Kenny Gonzalez loaded the bases with an infield single.
Jonathan Reyes-Diaz then dropped a bloop single into right-center, tying the game, and Touron then hit Bryan Diaz to give the Spartans the lead. Jorge Arenas followed with a high chopper to second base that drove in Gonzalez from third.
Gulliver had no problem figuring out Pace ace starter and Jacksonville commit Chris Rodriguez as the Raiders rapped out 11 hits in the game, but Pace got the big outs when it needed it.
But hearts were in throats on the Spartan side in the top of the sixth when, with a runner on and two outs, Gulliver’s Adrian Del Castillo launched a shot to deep right field that Pace right fielder Bryan Diaz reeled in with his back to the fence.
“To borrow Jim Valvano’s line, it’s all about survive and advance at this point,” Pace coach Tom Duffin said. “Gulliver is so tough and you saw how well they hit the ball [Thursday]. It wasn’t so much that Chris [Rodriguez] didn’t have his best stuff as to how well they hit the ball. I’m just proud of my kids for fighting, scrapping and finding a way to grind this one out.”
▪ Region 4-8A semifinal — Westland 5, Mater Academy 2: Westland Hialeah opened the year with an 8-0 win against Mater Academy, and the Wildcats ended the Lions’ season with a 5-2 victory at Walker Park on Thursday.
Westland senior right-hander Giovanni Arriera was on the mound for both match-ups and also silenced the Lions in the District 8-16A finals with a one-run, complete-game outing. Arriera pitched in four of Westland’s five wins against Mater this season, giving up just three runs in 20 2/3 innings.
The Wildcats broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth with two RBI-singles and a massive solo home run to left field by Jorge Diaz. Westland (20-9) scored twice in the first inning to take a 2-1 lead but couldn’t come up with timely hits against Lions starter Joe Soto until the fifth.
Mater (12-13) knocked Arriera out of the game in the top of the sixth after loading the bases with two outs, but junior David Vasquez came in for the final out and then retired the side in the seventh to finish off the Lions.
“Great game. Giovanni did not have his best stuff but he was still able to come out here and control them for six innings,” Westland coach Jose Alvarez said. “He did an excellent job grinding them out and keeping them to two runs.”
Mater moved up two divisions this season after winning 6A regional titles in 2015 and in its 2014 state-championship campaign. Westland, which won a district title for the first time two weeks ago, will go for its first regional title on Tuesday against Atlantic.
MA1 0 1 0 0 0 0 — 2 4 1
WS 2 0 0 0 3 0 — 5 9 1