Miami-Dade High Schools

Brito Panthers win second baseball state crown in a row

Brito players hold the trophy aloft after dominating Tampa Bayshore Christian for the school’s seventh baseball championship.
Brito players hold the trophy aloft after dominating Tampa Bayshore Christian for the school’s seventh baseball championship. For the Miami Herald

Experience and tradition were advantages Brito had plenty of heading into this year’s state baseball tournament.

The experience edge over its opponent Thursday afternoon made the difference.

And following a lopsided 12-1 win over Tampa Bayshore Christian that ended in five innings, Brito added a little more to its tradition.

The Panthers (18-11) won their second consecutive state championship and seventh state title overall. The total gives them the second-most championships by a Miami-Dade County team behind Westminster Christian (10). Brito is tied for sixth all-time statewide.

“There are no words I can find to describe how this feels,” Brito coach Pedro Guerra said. “This is a great honor to win back-to-back. There was a spell where we weren’t here playing for a state championship. And we’ve worked hard with the kids to get back to this point.”

It was also the second time Brito has repeated as state champions, having also won back-to-back titles in 1996-1997 under then-coach Ralph Suarez.

Guerra has now guided Brito to three state championships and five state final four appearances overall since 2006.

Bayshore Christian was Brito’s complete opposite in state experience.

The Faith Warriors were making their first appearance this week, and it showed early and often as they committed five errors over the first three innings. Two of the miscues were fly balls dropped in the outfield.

A couple other errors were seemingly routine plays that weren’t made such as overthrows to first base or grounders not handled cleanly.

Brito took full advantage by pouring on all 12 of its runs over those first three frames.

Senior catcher Jan Carlos Hernandez hit a bases-clearing double, and senior shortstop Luis Nieves hit a two-run single to highlight a seven-run third inning. Senior pitcher Marco Bolano, who struck out 11 in his semifinal start Wednesday, went 1 for 2 and had two RBI.

Brito starter Christian Crowe gave up a run in the third but allowed only four hits and struck out three to pick up the win on the mound.

“This is something I will never forget and really proud to be a part of this,” Hernandez said.

Brito’s composure wasn’t only because of its trip to state in 2014. The Panthers’ schedule resulted in a less than glamorous record by season’s end, but it toughened them up for the stretch run.

Brito opened the season with a nine-game winning streak, but not one of those opponents finished with a winning record.

The Panthers then lost seven in a row and went 3-11 over the remainder of their regular-season schedule. That slate, however, included state semifinalists Mater Academy, Gulliver and Westminster Christian.

It also had regional playoff teams such as Doral, Goleman, Pompano Beach Highlands Christian and Lake Worth Trinity Christian as well as TERRA, Monsignor Pace and Westminster Academy, all of which had winning records.

“Our experience is our foundation,” Guerra said. “Our schedule is really strong, and we play everybody. That helped us know what to expect and be confident in what they could do.”

One of the key moves Brito made to get its season back on track was switching speedy freshman center fielder Alex Nino to the leadoff spot after he had been hitting No. 9 in the lineup. The team’s hitting improved from that point on.

Nino set the tone on Thursday with a leadoff double that began the Panthers’ onslaught.

“I was comfortable with the switch, but there’s a lot of pressure that came with it,” Nino said. “I did my job like my coaches told me to do.

“It’s an honor to be in that position for this great program.”

BC 001 00 - 1 3 5

BR 237 0x – 12 6 0

WP: Christian Crowe (10-2). LP: David Santiago (4-3).

If you go

What: The state baseball championships.

When: Through next Thursday.

Where: JetBlue Park, 11500 Fenway South Drive, Fort Myers.

Admission: $9 per day; Parking: $10 for cars, $50 for fan buses.

Thursday’s results: Class 2A final: Brito 12, Bayshore Christian 1; Class 1A final: Blountstown vs. Williston, inc.

Friday’s schedule: Class 5A semifinals: Southwest Ranches Archbishop McCarthy vs. Tampa Robinson, 10 a.m.; Inverness Citrus vs. Lynn Haven Mosley, 1; Class 6A semifinals: Ocala Forest vs. St. Johns Bartram Trail, 4; Mater Academy vs. Venice, 7.

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