In 60 years as a school, there has never been another season quite like this one at South Dade.
From the first state football title in school history in December to a state wrestling championship in February and now another historic run to state, this time in baseball, the Buccaneers have shown their talent and determination.
South Dade’s baseball team (21-6), two victories from a third major title, will play DeLand (20-10) at 10 a.m. Friday in a Class 8A state semifinal at Fort Myers’ JetBlue Park.
“What’s happening at South Dade this year is really special,” Bucs baseball coach Fred Burnside said. “I’ve been impressed with the community support we’ve received.”
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This is just the Bucs’ second trip to state in baseball — the first was 38 years ago.
Burnside remembers that 1976 Bucs team that lost to Tate 8-6 in the Class 4A final. Burnside was a 29-year-old head coach at Killian at the time.
Now he’s 67 and in his sixth season at South Dade, and he is still trying to win his first state title.
Burnside, who coached for many years at Southridge, will be making his fourth appearance at a state final four. He nearly won it all in 2002, when he took Southridge to the 6A state final only to lose 5-4 to a Hialeah team led by eventual major-league pitcher Gio Gonzalez.
This time, the Bucs might have the best player in the class in 6-2 senior right-hander Erik Manoah, an FIU recruit who has been dominant on the mound and at the plate.
Manoah leads the team in homers (eight), RBI (24) and slugging percentage (.782). On the mound, where he has a 2.32 ERA, he leads the team in wins (8-2), strikeouts (109 in 69 innings) and shutouts (two).
He has come through with several big performances in this playoff run, including a 9-2 win over Palmetto in the district semifinals, a 3-1 victory over Killian in the regional semifinals and a two-inning save in a 5-3 knockout over Flanagan in the regional final.
Against Flanagan, it was Manoah’s two-run homer in the sixth inning that put the Bucs up 4-3. And as he rounded third base on his home run trot, he pleaded with Burnside to put him in as a reliever.
When Burnside agreed, Manoah ran to the bullpen to warm up, shouting, “It’s over.”
Burnside said he loves Manoah’s confidence but prefers he not “verbalize it” in that situation.
Regardless, if Manoah comes up with another huge performance, South Dade will be in Saturday night’s 7:30 state final against the winner of the other semifinal between Lake Worth’s Park Vista (26-3) and Bloomingdale (20-9).
Bloomingdale is a surprise team — this is the first time in seven years under coach Kris Wilken that it got out of districts.
But Park Vista was 31-2 and a state finalist in 2008. And this year’s Park Vista team has a dominant pitcher in junior right-hander Austin Smith, who is 10-0 with a 0.11 ERA.
However, Park Vista lost to Flanagan 9-1 on April 16. And that’s the team South Dade beat to get to state.
If South Dade were to get to the final, Burnside would throw his No. 2 starter, junior Jose Gorordo, who is 6-0 with a 1.70 ERA.
Besides Manoah, the Bucs’ offense is powered by junior second baseman Arturo Paula, who leads the team in batting average (.444), triples (three) and runs (28). His on-base percentage is .505.
In addition, sophomore catcher Gabriel Cruz leads in doubles (14), walks (15) and on-base percentage (.548). He is hitting .438.
And, as always, the Bucs will be well-supported as they attempt to continue this magical season.
“During my first year here, we beat Southridge in the district playoffs,” Burnside said. “The parents were so happy, you would have thought they won the World Series.”
Just wait to see what happens if they win two more games this weekend.