Columbus isn’t believing its own hype.
While taking pride in the near-perfect record it has assembled so far this regular season, the Columbus baseball team is keeping that simple mantra in mind despite garnering a top five national ranking heading into this week’s GMAC tournament.
"We’re not an overly talented team that is coming at you with draft pick after draft pick out there on the field," Columbus coach Joe Weber said. "But they are a strong team and have incredible chemistry playing all summer long and they’ll give it up for the next guy and that’s hard to find at this level."
The Explorers (23-1) had little trouble advancing to the GMAC finals on Tuesday with a comfortable 12-2 victory over upset-minded Hialeah, which knocked off Palmetto one night earlier in the quarterfinal round.
Columbus, ranked No. 5 nationally by MaxPreps, will take on Coral Park on Thursday in the GMAC final at 4 p.m. at Killian in a rematch of last season’s Class 9A regional final won by the Explorers.
"I’ve been telling them all you see out there, don’t buy into it," Weber said. "It hasn’t gone to their heads. I tell them every time you go up a spot [in the rankings] someone wants to beat you even more so they come ready to play every day."
The Explorers, whose only loss this season was a 1-0 defeat against district rival Braddock on March 16, won a state title in 2015 and last year was a state runner-up to Stoneman Douglas.
"We’re pitching strong and that’s been our strength," Weber said. "We gave up two runs and it felt like we gave up 35 points in football because we’ve given up very few runs this year."
Lefty pitcher Chris Gonzalez, one of only five seniors on Columbus’ roster, got the start Tuesday and ran into a little trouble in the second inning as Hialeah (13-9) took a 1-0 lead when Stephen Garcia doubled and scored two batters later on a ground out.
But Columbus answered with two runs in the third that scored after a throwing error by first baseman Eduardo Brito. The Explorers added two more in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Linares and when Matt Alfonso drew a walk with the bases loaded.
Anthony Arguelles, a junior right-hander, pitched three-plus innings in relief to help secure the win as Columbus broke the game open in the sixth with three runs.
▪ GMAC semifinal — Coral Park 7, Killian 6: The Rams (16-7) went back and forth with the host Cougars until taking a 7-4 lead in the third inning on a double by Adrian Rodriguez. Killian narrowd
Robert Contreras went 2 for 4 with three RBI to lead Coral Park’s offense. Zachary Neto went 3 for 3 with a run scored, and Axel Gomez went 1 for 2 and scored two runs.
The Rams head into Thursday’s final having won 10 of their past 12 games.
"The boys have responded well and they’ve shown they’re ready to play when it counts," Coral Park coach Juan "Butch" Carnicero said.