Flanagan catcher Miguel Useche had four home runs this season before he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday afternoon.
But, with his team locked in a tie with Marjory Stoneman Douglas, it was his fifth that counted the most. That’s when, with a runner on and two outs, Useche got a pitch he was looking for from Eagles pitcher Luke Shultz and drove it over the left-field fence.
The two-run blast turned out to be the spark the Falcons needed as they went on to defeat Douglas 10-3 in a Region 3-9A semifinal in the searing mid-afternoon heat at Flanagan High School.
Flanagan (21-4-1) moves on to the regional final round where the Falcons will play Wednesday and either host Lake Worth Park Vista at 7 p.m. or travel to Palm Beach County to take on Wellington Palm Beach Central.
“I was looking fast ball but was ready to react in case I got a changeup,” said Useche. “That’s what he gave me and I got good bat on it and drove it out. It was a big moment for us but a lot of guys today made big plays. This was a team win if there ever was one.”
Useche’s blast wasn’t the end of the inning as the Falcons kept plugging away. After Steven Schissler reached on an error and David Joseph walked, Max Baldiccini brought them both home with a double to the left-field corner. He scored a minute later when Michael DeLaguardia singled to left to make it 7-2.
How good of a day was it for the Falcons? Despite numerous players who cramped up due to the mid-afternoon temperature, they capped things off in style in the last of the sixth when Nicholas Epstein, a pitcher who hadn’t had a single at-bat all season, stepped up with the bases loaded and two outs and drilled a two-RBI single to right to complete the scoring for Flanagan.
“It was tricky today because the kids aren’t used to playing in this kind of mid-day heat,” said Flanagan head coach Noel Figueroa, who is in his first year after replacing long time legendary coach Ray Evans. “There was a lot of subbing kids in and out of there but they all did a great job of responding to the challenge, especially Miguel who really came up big for us in a big moment.”
Douglas initially took a 2-1 lead with back-to-back solo home runs by Hunter Fitzgerald and Colby Mayo in the top of the third before the game slipped away from the Eagles (20-6) in the bottom of the fourth.
Schissler reached on a one-out error at second base and Joseph followed with a walk. Baldiccini then drilled a base hit to left center scoring Schissler and tying the game setting the stage for Useche’s fifth inning heroics.