Coral Park hadn’t won a GMAC baseball title since 1977, the year before it won its lone state championship.
The Rams’ county championship drought ended Thursday with a dramatic 8-6 victory over nationally ranked Columbus at Killian High School.
Coral Park is hoping for the same carryover from GMAC to state that it enjoyed almost four decades ago.
“This is really special,” sophomore third baseman Adrian Rodriguez said. “Our confidence is already sky high. Now, we believe nobody can touch us.”
The Rams (17-7) had just let a seemingly secure five-run lead slip away in the bottom of the sixth inning as Columbus (23-2), the No. 5-ranked team in the nation by MaxPreps, tied the score at 6.
With two outs and two runners on, Rodriguez drove both runs home when he belted a double to left field to give Coral Park the winning margin.
Senior Daniel Vera, who entered the game in relief in the sixth to help stop Columbus’ rally, picked up the victory and recorded the final three outs in order, ending the game with a strikeout.
“I’m a little choked up because I’m so proud of the way this team has responded all season,” Coral Park coach Juan “Butch” Carnicero said. “This is a memory they will have the rest of their lives.”
The Rams lost to Columbus in last year’s regional final, which was their first trip to the regionals in nine seasons.
Since opening this season with a 6-5 record, Coral Park has won 11 of its past 13 games and heads into next week’s District 14-9A playoffs as the No. 1 seed.
The Rams are looking to win their first state title since 1978 when they were coached by legendary former coach Steve Hertz.
Trailing 1-0 in the third, Coral Park loaded the bases with no outs on three consecutive singles. Erik Estevez followed with another one to tie the score. The Rams then scored two more on a throwing error by Columbus starter Christopher Bohrer and one more on a wild pitch to take a 4-1 lead.
Estevez gave Coral Park a 6-1 edge with a two-run double in the fourth.
Columbus led off the sixth with back-to-back solo home runs by Christian Rodriguez and Joel Gonzalez. Mike Fernandez’s opposite-field single cut the Explorers’ deficit to 6-4.
Bohrer drew a bases-loaded walk a couple of batters later, and Danny Martin brought home the tying run on a fielder’s choice ground ball.
But a leadoff double by Alex Gato and a walk to Bran Socorro set up the go-ahead situation with one out. After Axel Gomez popped up for the second out, Adrian Rodriguez delivered in the clutch.
“I had two pop fly balls foul on fastballs and then he came back with a couple of curve balls,” Rodriguez said. “I knew he had to come back with the fastball, and I just jumped on it.”