They knocked on the door to state two years ago and then knocked a little harder last year. On Friday afternoon, the Coral Gables softball team finally busted the thing down.
The Cavaliers pulled off a 6-2 upset of Coral Reef in a Region 4-9A final at Coral Reef High School to propel Coral Gables to the state final four for the first time in program history.
“Finally! I can’t believe it, we finally did it,” said Gables head coach Natalie de la Vega, herself a Gables player from the late 90s. “I’m not sure how many times we made it to this game only to come up short, but it seems like a lot. What a great moment for our girls today and this program.”
Gables (19-10) became the first Miami-Dade County public school team not named Palmetto or Coral Reef to advance to the state final four since Braddock went back in 2011. The Cavaliers now travel to Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach to take on either Oviedo or Lithia Newsome in a state semifinal on Thursday at 7:50 p.m.
“This means that we’ve finally been able to push through,” said Gables pitcher Angelina Bonilla, who wasn’t at her sharpest on Friday with four hits five walks and four hit batters but managed to squirm her way out of a few jams. “We’ve practiced and worked so hard for this moment and it finally paid off. We were a determined bunch.”
Bonilla and Reef starter Brianna Romeguera matched scoreless innings into the fifth before the Barracudas actually broke though first in the bottom of the inning. Cassidy Stouffer blooped a two-out single to center field, scoring Janesa Casanes from second for a 1-0 lead.
Down to their last six outs, the Cavaliers then pulled off a stunner when they plated six runs to take command.
After Sydney Pell drew a one-out walk, Kylie Santana singled to left for only the second hit of the game off Romeguera, who then lwalked the next two batters to tie the game before hitting Rebecca Rodriguez to give Gables a 2-1 lead.
Riley Deidrick then came in for Romaguera and with the infield in, got a ground ball to second off the bat of Kassandra Mendez. But the easy force out at home turned into a disaster when the throw home went wide and scored two runs. It got even worse when the catcher threw wild down to second into center field allowing the remaining two runners to score including Mendez who wound up coming all the way around.
In the span of 20 seconds, it went from 2-1 to 6-1 and proved to be too big of a hole for Reef to climb out of.
When the Barracudas loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the inning, Bonilla was faced with her biggest challenge of the day.
She responded by striking out Malka Trujillo and Natalia Boix to get two outs. After hitting Casanes to bring in a run, she got Anna Hernandez to fly out to left to end the inning.
Even the final out had a little drama to it when, with two runners on base, a fly ball to left field was bobbled up in the air before Tatania Campos came down with it, allowing Gables players to mob each other at the center of the field.
“Last year’s game, we actually felt like we outplayed them and deserved to go then,” said de la Vega referring to her team’s 4-3 loss to Reef in last year’s regional final at Gables High School, her team’s second straight regional final loss along with a loss to Palmetto in 2012. “We had five returning seniors this year and I just told our girls that this was it. This was their last shot and even the underclassmen as well because when we lose these five seniors it’s more or less back to rebuilding it back up. The window was closing after today and fortunately we jumped through it.”