Westland Hialeah’s baseball team spent eight years working to become one of the state’s best.
Inclement weather forced the Wildcats to wait an extra day.
Once they finally made their debut Saturday morning, the timely hitting that helped Westland Hialeah earn a ticket to Fort Myers eluded it during a 2-0 loss to Tampa George Steinbrenner in a Class 8A state semifinal.
“We stranded a lot of baserunners and had plenty of opportunities to score early in the game,” Westland Hialeah coach Jose Alvarez said. “If we could have converted in that first inning with the bases loaded, maybe put up two or three, they’re chasing us and it’s a whole different game.”
Instead, the Wildcats (21-10) left 11 runners on base and weren’t able to score a run off Steinbrenner starter C.J. Van Eyk, a junior and Florida State University commitment.
Westland put together a few chances against the talented right-hander, loading the bases in the first inning and in the seventh.
But Van Eyk, who improved to 12-1 for the season with a 0.77 ERA, wiggled out of trouble each time.
“My boys were aggressive the whole day and put guys on the whole game,” Alvarez said. “We just couldn’t scratch one through.”
Westland ace Gio Arriera pitched five solid innings and allowed only two hits, but couldn’t keep Steinbrenner locked down completely. One of his two runs was unearned, and he walked three and struck out three.
Westland’s best chance to score was its last chance to score in the seventh inning.
But even then the Wildcats were denied by the Fenway Park replica “Green Monster” in left field at JetBlue Park.
With two outs and a runner at first in the top of the seventh, Westland Hialeah second baseman Bryan Lavastida crushed a ball to deep left field. But the blast did not travel high enough to clear the 40-foot high wall, glancing off the net just below the top for a double that set up runners on second and third.
Following an intentional walk to load the bases, Van Eyk recorded his seventh strikeout to end the game.
Westland hitters worked five walks off Van Eyk and recorded six hits, but hit into three double plays.
“Obviously as seniors we wanted the [state championship] ring,” Lavastida said. “It feels good to have gotten here, but it was still a loss and in a playoff game.”
The Wildcats, whose school had never advanced to state in any team sport, hope it’s only the beginning.
A year after making its first regional playoff appearance as a district runner-up and losing in the quarterfinals, Westland Hialeah made the finals of the GMAC tournament, and won its first district and regional championships.
The overall outlook appears to be favorable for Westland to build off this season’s success since the Wildcats only graduate four starters and one pitcher.
But Alvarez said he expects losing Arriera and Lavastida will be tough to overcome.
“It was very fun for our school,” Alvarez said. “A lot of our kids didn’t even know what a state game was. Our goal was to win districts and take it from there. Those two guys were the catalysts and they wanted more and they got us more.”
WH 000 000 0 – 0 6 1
ST 100 010 x – 2 3 2
WP: CJ Van Eyk (12-1). LP: Gio Arriera (7-4).