Baseball Season preview
In his past seven seasons as a baseball coach, Rich Bielski has won six state titles, including the past four years in a row at Archbishop McCarthy.
Keeping that streak alive will be extra challenging this year because McCarthy has moved down from Class 6A to 5A, where the Mavericks will join a district that includes 2012 state champion Plantation American Heritage.
Writer Nathan Rode, a national expert on high school baseball, said the McCarthy-Heritage rivalry will be big.
“I would liken it to the Red Sox versus Yankees in the early 2000s,” said Rode, who serves as the national supervisor for the Prep Baseball Report. “It’s going to be tough for anyone else to break through in that district. I don’t think anyone else has a prayer for the foreseeable future.”
For the record, the other schools in District 16-5A are Cardinal Gibbons, Coconut Creek, Dillard and Pompano Beach.
McCarthy and Heritage are not only strong in Florida — these are national programs.
Last year, for example, McCarthy finished the season ranked 18th in the nation, according to perfectgame.org. Heritage, despite losing to Estero 3-2 in the regional finals, was 19th.
No other South Florida team was in the top 100.
Bruce Aven, Heritage’s third-year coach, has an experienced team that starts six seniors and three juniors.
His top Major League Baseball prospect is shortstop Milton Ramos, a Florida Atlantic recruit who could get drafted in the first three rounds.
“He has above-average speed, a solid arm and great hands,” Aven said. “His range is unbelievable. What determines how high he goes in the draft is his bat.”
Other top Heritage seniors include outfielder Brandon Vicens, who also has committed to FAU, third baseman Alec Acosta (Davidson) and pitcher Louis Beck (Villanova).
Aven said this Heritage team doesn’t have the “big names” he has had the past two years.
“Last year, we had a murderer’s row batting one through five in our lineup,” Aven said. “Every one of them could kill you.
“This year, we’re more balanced.”
Heritage has played McCarthy the past couple of years, but those were exhibition games when each team used multiple pitchers.
This year, the stakes will be higher — not that Aven is scared.
“I like our chances — I’m a confident person,” said Aven, a former major-league outfielder. “And I don’t think my kids will be looking across the field and being intimidated by anyone.”
He’s probably right, but that’s not to say McCarthy isn’t impressive.
Bielski, who also won two state titles at Hialeah, returns all his top pitchers from last season, including seniors Brian Gonzalez (Miami recruit), Andres Nunez (FIU) and Aaron Soto (Tennessee).
Gonzalez, who went 11-0 last season with a 1.04 ERA, is the ace, and he is followed in the rotation by Nunez.
Soto could be the third starter or the closer, depending on the need.
McCarthy also returns seven of its top nine hitters, including shortstop Eddie Silva, who is an FIU recruit. Gonzalez and Soto are also strong hitters, and center fielder Michael Gigliotti, a Lipscomb recruit, ignites the offense as the leadoff batter.
So who will advance further — Heritage or McCarthy?
Fans can’t start to formulate opinions when these two titans finally battle in a real game. Heritage visits McCarthy on March 7. And McCarthy travels to Heritage on March 21.
The teams could meet twice more in the playoffs — district finals and regional semifinals.
“It’s a very big deal when you have a team of Heritage’s caliber in your district,” Bielski said.
“This will be our biggest challenge yet.”
DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS