Twelve years after winning its only state title, Columbus returned to the top of the high school baseball world on Thursday night.
That’s when Columbus players stormed the mound for the traditional celebration following their decisive 10-1 victory over this year’s Cinderella story, Orange City University, in the Class 8A state championship game at JetBlue Park.
Columbus, which had a huge and noisy turnout by its fans sitting down the third-base line, finished 27-5 and on a 15-game winning streak.
The loss ended University’s improbable run through the playoffs. A school in just its fifth year of existence, the Titans finished the regular season 12-12 and were the No.8 seed in their own district. They finished 18-14.
And for a change, there was no nail-biting down the stretch as the Explorers were able to breath easy with a big lead in the final innings, unlike their previous four playoff contests, all decided by one run.
“This is just such a great moment, and I can tell you it’s not easy to get here,” said Columbus coach Joe Weber who just completed his 20th season and was the only one around in 2003 when the Explorers defeated Apopka to win their only other title. “This is 8A — we’re lining up against some really great teams and to do what we did to get here, winning all these one-run games, it just shows you how crazy it can be.
“We were talking on the bus coming over here [Thursday] that wouldn’t it be nice to not have to deal with the pressure of a one-run game, so it was kind of nice to have some breathing room for a change.”
And the standout hero was pitcher Alain Santana. Not only did Santana fire a two-hitter and allow no earned runs, but he also came through at the plate with a rare inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the fourth, completing a huge six-run rally that put the game away.
“I knew once we used our aces [Wednesday] that I was going to get my opportunity, my chance to go out there and do something special,” said Santana who watched both Chris Coipel and Matt Marini throw against Park Vista the night before. “My mentality when I walked out there was, ‘This is my game, and I’m not coming out of here a loser. I’m going to bring Columbus High School back a state baseball title.’”
On his home run, Santana knew he had a shot when it left his bat and got over the right fielder’s head and dribbled to the wall.
“This is a big park, and when I saw it get past him, I knew it might roll to the fence and took off,” Santana said.
Columbus got off to a nervous start as the Explorers committed three errors in the top of the first, two by shortstop Danny Casals that allowed the Titans to grab an early 1-0 lead.
But Columbus answered back right away with a run in the bottom of the first when Jackie Urbaez scored Dominick Reyes from third with a two-out single to left.
“We were all pretty amped up, especially me in that first inning, and it showed,” said Casals who made up for his errors at the plate going 2 for 3 with 2 RBI. “Once we got that run and got the game tied, I knew we’d be OK.”
Columbus took the lead for good by scoring three more times in the second when, after Nick Rocha led off the inning with a hit, Jose Machado hit one right at second baseman Antonio Vega for what would’ve been an easy 4-6-3 double play, but Vega booted it leaving runners on first and second, no outs.
After Chris Vinson sacrificed the runners to second and third, No. 9 hitter Mike Navarette came through with a bloop single to right scoring both runners. Navarette went to second on the throw home, enabling him to score when Casals singled to left.
UN 100 000 0 – 1 2 3
COL 130 600 x – 10 8 4
WP: Alain Santana; LP: Danny Acevedo
Class 8A: Columbus 10, Orange City University 1
Class 7A: Oviedo 9, Sarasota 5
Class 6A: Venice 5, St. Johns Bartram Trail 0
Class 5A: Archbishop McCarthy 3, Lynn Haven Mosley 0
Class 4A: Jacksonville Trinity Christian 6, Fort Myers Bishop Verot 4
Class 3A: Westminster Christian 7, Tallahassee N. Florida Christian 2 (6)
Class 2A: Brito 12, Tampa Bayshore Christian 1 (5)
Class 1A: Williston 3, Blountstown 0