High School Sports

Columbus baseball clinches return trip to state final four

Columbus players celebrate their 2-1 victory over Coral Park after the finsih of a high school playoff game between Columbus and Coral Park on Tues., May 10, 2016.
Columbus players celebrate their 2-1 victory over Coral Park after the finsih of a high school playoff game between Columbus and Coral Park on Tues., May 10, 2016. rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com

Andy Arguelles’ physical condition Tuesday mirrored the kind of season it has been for the Columbus baseball team.

The Explorers’ ace was pitching with a day less of rest since his last start while battling a cold and stomach issues.

But like Columbus, which overcame setbacks throughout the season, Arguelles persevered and put together another quality start.

His complete game, in which he gave up only one unearned run, resulted in a 2-1 win over resurgent Coral Park in the Region 4-9A final that earned Columbus a chance to defend its Class 9A state championship.

Arguelles, an FIU signee, walked four, struck out six and gave up four hits, but his lone run was unearned and he managed to work his way out of trouble in multiple innings.

“I was laboring before the game and in the late innings a little bit,” Arguelles said. “But that’s why you work out so hard in the summer to have that strength in the late innings. My stomach didn’t feel good, but my arm felt fine strength-wise.”

Columbus (20-9) will take on Tampa Alonso in a state semifinal on May 20 at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers at 10 a.m. The Explorers are vying for their second consecutive state championship and third overall in what will be their fourth trip to state since 2009.

Getting back to state wasn’t easy.

Columbus overcame a three-game losing streak to open the season, as well as three defeats to district rival Southwest, which denied it a district championship.

This forced the Explorers to play three regional playoff games at rival schools’ home fields.

Led by Arguelles’ sharp pitching, Columbus proceeded to eliminate once-nationally-ranked South Dade, avenge earlier losses to Southwest and defeat much-improved Coral Park. Columbus won three road games on its way to winning its first state title in 2003.

“I told the guys it’s not an easy path, but it can be done,” Columbus coach Joe Weber said. “Andy’s pitching made it a lot easier that’s for sure. This season was a grind and they could have easily folded at a couple of junctures and they didn’t with their resolve.”

The Rams (20-9) made their first appearance in a regional final since 1997 — the last time they advanced to the state tournament.

“I can’t ask for more from my boys,” said Coral Park coach Juan “Butch” Carnicero, who played for the Rams in the late 1990s. “We had the tying run at third and their pitcher did the job. He had us off balance the whole game. We were one hit away, but my boys battled really hard.”

Columbus scored a run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Hernen Sardinas and in the fifth on a double by Jose Machado.

Trailing 2-0 in the sixth, Coral Park cut the lead in half by capitalizing on a throwing error by Columbus third baseman Mike Fernandez. Following a single by Emanuel Montesino with one out, Bran Socorro hit a sacrifice fly ball to center.

Arguelles composed himself and struck out Coral Park center fielder Paul Castillo looking to end the inning.

The Rams turned a double play in the top of the seventh to keep Columbus from scoring and had the tying run at third base with two outs when shortstop Erwing Hernandez singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and stole third. But Arguelles got Axel Gomez to ground out to third to end the game.

COL 000 110 0 – 2

CP 000 001 0 – 1

WP: Andy Arguelles (13-1). LP: Anthony Vazquez (7-3).

Andre C. Fernandez: 305-376-4997, @AndreMHsports