High School Sports

Columbus baseball team prepped for final test at state tournament in Fort Myers

Columbus High’s Chris Coipel throws a pitch against Flanagan on Tuesday, May12, 2015.
Columbus High’s Chris Coipel throws a pitch against Flanagan on Tuesday, May12, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The 11 seniors on the Columbus baseball team will take final exams Wednesday at 7:30 a.m.

Then comes the really big test.

The Explorers (25-5), who have won 13 consecutive games, will hit the road by 9:30. Columbus will bus to Fort Myers where it will face Palm Beach County power Park Vista (28-2) in a Class 8A state semifinal scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday at JetBlue Park.

“Things are pretty hectic right now,” Columbus coach Joe Weber said.

It will all be worth it for the Explorers if they can win their next two games, which would give them just the second state title in school history and their first since 2003.

A victory Wednesday would put Columbus in Thursday’s state final against either Orlando’s Timber Creek (19-10) or Orange City University (17-13).

This is Columbus’ ninth trip to the state semifinals, the first coming in 1963. The Explorers finished second in 1973, 2009 and 2012.

Park Vista, which has never won a state title, is making its fifth trip to the semifinals in the past eight years. Columbus beat Park Vista 3-2 in a 2009 state semifinal.

But this is a different Park Vista team.

“Park Vista has 10 Division I prospects,” said Nathan Rhode, the national supervisor for Prep Baseball Report. “And [starting pitcher] Austin Smith should get drafted between the second and fourth rounds.”

Smith, a 6-4, 230-pound Florida Atlantic recruit, has a 94 mph fastball and is 5-1 this season with a 0.74 ERA.

Park Vista also has another FAU recruit in lefty pitcher Jordan Poore (7-1, 1.19 ERA). Senior shortstop Matthew Mika, a UCF recruit, set the school record last year with 48 steals.

Columbus counters with three top senior recruits of its own: pitchers Chris Copiel (FIU) and Matt Marini (California-Irvine) and shortstop Danny Casals (Maine).

Copiel (12-1, 1.15 ERA) has pitched two consecutive one-hit shutouts, beating South Dade 1-0 in a regional semifinal and Flanagan 1-0 in a regional final.

Marini (8-1, 1.32 ERA) has been Columbus’ co-ace this season but he has had to pitch with a broken right toe. Despite the injury to his push-off foot, he would still pitch Thursday if Columbus advances.

Casals, who leads the team in batting average (.373) and doubles (10), has been Columbus’ sparkplug since he moved from the three-hole to leadoff batter midway through the season.

But even with all that talent, Columbus has had to battle. In its four elimination games, the Explorers won three by one run and trailed 5-2 in the fourth inning in the other.

They rallied in the latter game to beat Ferguson 12-6 as Copiel pitched 31/3 innings of no-hit relief and Casals hit a two-run triple.

In the regional quarterfinals, Columbus again trailed early and had to rally, beating Palmetto 5-4. Copiel again starred in relief, striking out six of the final 10 batters he faced.

Columbus hasn’t been scored on since. But the other teams at state are also pitching well. Park Vista and Timber Creek have allowed just two runs in its three regional games, and University has given up only one run.


South Dade’s Vic Balmeceda was named the state Coach of the Year on Tuesday after leading the Bucs to their tenth state championship. South Dade dominated the Class 3A field at the state meet in Kissimmee, amassing 187 points.


In addition to basketball standout Sabrina Verdes signing with Johnson and Wales, Varela also had five more athletes sign this week.

Football player Robert Armand signed with Stetson, Neysa Parham signed with Stevenson (track), Nicholas Leon signed with Lenoir-Rhyne (football), Mathew Franco signed with Ohio Valley (soccer) and Amanda Perez signed with Lincoln Memorial (soccer).

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