Columbus has had a long list of baseball players that went on to succeed at the college and professional levels.
Senior outfielder Hernen Sardinas has shown the kind of versatility at the plate that his coach, Joe Weber, thinks could earn him a place within that Explorers’ tradition.
Sardinas, a University of Maine signee, has belted a team-high nine home runs while hitting third for Columbus, which makes its second consecutive appearance at the state final four on Friday when it plays Tampa Alonso at 1 p.m. in a Class 9A state semifinal at jetBlue Park.
“Hernen is a long-ball threat, but he also has a great eye at the plate and can draw plenty of walks,” Weber said. “He’s a guy who can also hurt you with his speed if you decide not to pitch to him.”
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Columbus (23-9) is trying to win back-to-back state titles for the first time in school history, and a third championship overall.
Sardinas drove in 31 runs this season, hit .333 and solidified Columbus’ lineup along with another outfielder, Gabe Rivera, the Explorers’ cleanup hitter.
Sardinas came through in the clutch throughout a topsy-turvy season in which the Explorers opened by losing their first three games and eventually lost the district championship to rival Southwest.
During the playoffs, the stellar pitching of FIU signee Andy Arguelles has set the tone for Columbus’ victories.
Arguelles threw a no-hitter and has allowed only two runs combined in three starts. He is 13-1 with 120 strikeouts and a 0.87 ERA.
They will need him to be sharp again when he takes the hill against Alonso and ace Jordan Butler in a matchup of talented lefties. Butler, a University of Florida commitment, is 11-0 with 71 2/3 innings pitched, 93 strikeouts and a 0.59 ERA.
But Sardinas’ prolific hitting has made the Explorers even more dangerous late in the season.
In the regional semifinal game three weeks ago, Sardinas hit two home runs, including a grand slam, that helped the Explorers win the fourth meeting against Southwest after losing the first three.
“I don’t remember a lot of guys I’ve had here with the combination of speed and power and ability to put the ball in play the way he can,” Weber said.
Rivera, a University of Miami signee, hit 11 doubles and complemented the Explorers’ outfield defense with his range.
Sardinas, Rivera and shortstop Mike Navarette are the only players Columbus returned from last season’s state championship team.
“Gabe covers a lot of ground out there and been a huge plus for us,” Weber said. “It hasn’t been an easy season, but to the kids’ credit they’ve never quit.”