For a team as talented as the Miami Christian Victors, they came into the state tournament as the favorites to win the 2A state championship and knowing that they would take the best shots from all parts of the state.
Little did they know that their first trip to the state tournament in 43 years would result in their semifinal contest starting on Saturday, get delayed until Monday and if they were to earn their spot in the state championship game, it would be played just hours after finishing their biggest game of the season.
The Victors broke out the bats Monday morning to surge into the title game and jump out to an early lead in the final and win the 2A state crown with a 9-3 victory over Wakulla Christian at Hammond Stadium.
For Victors head coach Chris Cuadra, after his team squandered a 4-2 third inning lead in their morning semifinal contest against Seven Rivers Christian that was pushed back from Saturday due to heavy rain in Southwest Florida spawned by Tropical Storm Alberto, he saw his team score nine runs in the middle innings to wrap up a spot in the title game. Knowing that his group would have to recharge the batteries, Cuadra was confident his group would be up for the task.
“We hadn’t had a doubleheader all year long and it was important for the guys to refocus for the afternoon,” Cuadra said.
Victor junior Daniel Miguel’s three hits and four RBI led the way in 13-5 victory over Seven Rivers Christian and set up a matchup with Wakulla Christian, which had the luxury of finishing their semifinal contest Saturday morning.
right-hander Jason Marono got the nod on the mound in the championship game after Cuadra used senior ace Mario Fernandez to sew up the semifinal victory in the morning, and in the early going, it was a big hit from an unlikely source that put the Victors out in front.
No. 8 hitter Marcos Pedraza stepped to the plate in the second with two men aboard and two outs and the junior was able to drive a pitch over the centerfielder’s head to bring around both runners and put the Victors on top 2-0.
After being staked to the lead, Marono worked himself into a bases-loaded jam with one out, but facing the bottom of the Wakulla Christian lineup, struck out the No. 8 and No. 9 batters to hold the lead for Miami Christian.
Wakulla Christian would again threaten in the third, putting runners on first and second with two outs, but Marono would collect another strikeout to hold the lead at 2-0.
Holding the fort down would prove to be critical as the Victors plated three runs in the fourth with Luis Alcantara’s RBI double and Arnold Ruiz’ run-scoring single each coming with two outs providing some insurance for Marono to work with.
The junior tossed a scoreless fourth inning and would watch his teammates add on four more runs in the fifth with senior Diego Fernandez ripping a bases-clearing double into the right field corner and Pedraza driving in his third run of the game on a single to left to give Miami Christian a 9-0 lead.
Pedraza had been playing with a partially torn labrum that he sustained in the district championship game against Brito on May 3, and found himself down in the order after being up near the top of the lineup for the Victors throughout most of the season, but came up big at the right time for his team.
“That first at-bat, I was thinking fastball middle-away and the pitch came in a bit inside but I was able to get my hands inside the ball and blow it by the centerfielder,” Pedraza said.
“All year long, I’ve been moved around the order and had to miss a game with my injury but I came back strong. I didn’t care (if I was hurt), I just had to play.”
In the fifth, left-hander Jason Garcia entered for the Victors and had to shake off some wildness to open the inning, allowing the first three Saints to reach. The junior would surrender a run on a bases-loaded walk and a fielder’s choice, but calmed down to work two innings and turn the game into the hands of freshman Alejandro Rosario for the seventh.
The Miami commit was greeted with a single, double and walked back-to-back batters to force in a run, but would collect a strikeout and started the game-ending 1-2-3 double play and ran out to the outfield for his teammates to chase him down and set off a celebration 43 years in the making.
It was especially satisfying for Cuadra, who graduated from Miami Christian in 2005, to see his program finally live up to its potential after winning district titles the previous two seasons to only run into Lake Worth Trinity Christian, who would end the Victors season and go on to win back-to-back state titles. After taming the Warriors on their home field, finishing the year off with a ring was a fitting finish to the year for Miami Christian.
“The past two years, we’ve come up short, but to finally come through, it means a lot. It’s my almamater, I bleed red and black. These kids have been working really hard all season long and wanted some respect locally and I think they’ve got it now.”