The dog pile in the center of the field said it all — a dog pile that players and coaches from the Archbishop McCarthy baseball program have grown quite accustomed to by now.
The Mavericks had just put the finishing touches on a 5-2 victory over Lynn Haven Mosley in the Class 6A state championship game at JetBlue Park on Thursday night when they stormed the center of the field to celebrate not only the 2013 state title, but also their fourth in a row.
And with that, this Mavericks team will be etched in the history books. McCarthy, a school that opened its doors just 15 years ago, became the first baseball team in history to win four consecutive state titles, surpassing Westminster Christian’s three in a row from 1996 to 1998.
“It’s just an awesome feeling right now and I’m just so excited for these kids and everything that’s been accomplished,” said McCarthy coach Rich Bielski, who avoided talking about the four-peat possibility all year and now has six state titles, with his other two at Hialeah in 2001-02.
“To do this four times in a row is something beyond my wildest dreams, and I always dream well. I even went out there and jumped on the dog pile tonight, and that’s the first time I’ve done that since I played at Georgia when we won the SEC. I just wanted to go celebrate with the kids this time because I’m not getting any younger and wanted to do it while I still can.”
McCarthy (26-5) clearly established itself as perhaps the premier baseball program in the state as the Mavericks have now won 20 consecutive playoff games dating all the way back to a 7-3 loss to Naples in the 2009 state semifinals. They defeated Tampa Jesuit in back-to-back state title games in 2010 and 2011 followed by a win over Pensacola Pace last year.
With only two seniors (catcher Michael Hernandez and third baseman Jonathan Quintana) in the starting lineup, this junior-laden team will be back intact next year and the talk of five in row will surely follow.
Standing off of the celebration was former Monsignor Pace, University of Miami and Florida Marlins pitcher Alex Fernandez. Fernandez arrived six years ago to become Director of Baseball Operations at the school and, as much as he tried to deflect the attention, is widely credited with having planted the seeds of a program that has known nothing but on-field success.
“I won a World Series with the Marlins and this ranks right up there,” Fernandez said. “Yes, this was the idea I had in mind when I started all of this but after that, it was up to the people around me and their hard work and dedication that really made this thing go. It starts with Rich down to his coaching staff, to our head of fundraising, to our volunteer parents and, ultimately, the kids. Our school really prides itself on having great kids, and that’s a big part of it as well.”
Mosley (28-4), from the Panama City area, jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first off McCarthy starter Andres Nuñez when Jordan Levy led off the game with a high chopper infield base hit, advanced to second on a wild pitch, to third on an infield groundout and scored on Bowen McGuffin bleeder base hit just over shortstop.
The Mavericks immediately answered in the bottom of the inning when Quintana led off with a base hit, went to second on a Michael Gigliotti sacrifice bunt and came home on a two-out RBI single by Brian Gonzalez down the left-field line.
McCarthy broke the tie in the bottom of the third with three runs and would lead for good.
After Mosley starter Andrew Perdomo, who entered the game with a perfect 9-0 record and 0.95 ERA, walked Blade Bielski and Quintana to start the inning, to the surprise of many Mosley coach Todd Harless pulled Perdomo off the mound in favor of Joey Hair.
Gigliotti laid down another perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runners and No. 3 hitter Brandon Vicens brought them both home with a towering shot off the green monster wall for a double. He then caught Hair napping and stole third, which paid off when Gonzalez launched a deep fly ball to center, allowing him to tag up and score.
Nuñez, who went the distance and scattered seven hits along the way, was steady through the first four innings but dodged a major bullet in the fifth.
With a runner on first and two outs, he gave up a base hit to leadoff hitter Jordan Larry, balked and then hit Brady Bell to load the bases. Bowen McGuffin then stepped up and hit a laser right at left fielder Bigliotti, who coolly gloved it for the final out.
The Mavericks added their last run in the sixth after Vicens led off with a double and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly to left off the bat of Aaron Soto.
Gigliotti, the team’s left fielder, made a spectacular late inning horizontal diving catch of a drive that would have scored two runs and put them behind in what turned out to be a 7-6 regional semifinal victory over Mater Academy two weeks ago. That was perhaps the defining postseason moment for the Mavericks, who overcame a 5-0 deficit in that game or it well could have been Mater out in that dog pile instead.
“It feels great to have made such a big play, but our team had plenty of big plays along the way that if they don’t make those, then mine wouldn’t have meant anything,” Gigliotti said. “We still had to keep playing after that in order to reach this moment.”