The Doral Academy softball team finally got over the hump.
After reaching the regional finals for the fourth time in six years, the Firebirds are making their way to state following a 3-0 victory over host Okeechobee on Friday night.
Doral (23-4), ranked No. 5 in the state and No. 43 in the country by MaxPreps, will face Lake Region in a Class 7A state semifinal at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach at 2:50 p.m. Thursday.
The Firebirds’ success on Friday started on the mound, with freshman pitcher Alyssa Zabala throwing seven shutout innings with 11 strikeouts and just two hits allowed. Zabala is now 12-2 on the year and her ERA has dropped to a miniscule 0.70.
Jenelle Figueroa, Brianna Muniz, Daniela Frank-Fernandez and Gaby Ruiz each had one hit to lead the offense, while Amanda Ramirez got a big RBI in the fifth inning to extend the lead.
For coach Willie Viruet, this moment was a long-time coming.
He mapped out one of the tougher, road-heavy schedules in Miami-Dade county to get his team ready for moments like Friday. Almost every time they stepped onto field, they were facing a state contender, usually at their place.
Coral Reef. Coral Gables. Cooper City twice. Palmetto twice. Plantation American Heritage. The list keeps going.
“We loaded up this year,“ Viruet said.
Viruet needed to make sure they were ready. His roster is talented but young, with underclassmen like freshman Zabala, sophomore Kassandra Machado and sophomore Ramirez making just as much of an impact as seniors like Figueroa, Ruiz and Muniz.
“We knew we had a special team,” Viruet said, “and we wanted to make sure we were ready for this moment.”
He saw a glimpse of that one game earlier, in the regional semifinal against Pembroke Pines Charter.
With the game scoreless and the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth inning, Ramirez stepped up to the plate in a pivotal moment. She worked a 2-0 count before Viruet had a decision to make.
He gave his sophomore catcher his blessing to go after the next pitch. The result: a no-doubt grand slam to left-center field to all but secure an eventual 4-1 win.
“I let her swing away,” Viruet said, “and it was a bomb.”
Viruet and the Firebirds are hoping for more of that production for two more games. The chance at a state championship looms.
“With the schedule we played, I think we’re ready,” Viruet said. “They’re confident. They’re loose.”
More regional finals results
▪ Region 3-9A: Park Vista 2, West Browad 0
▪ Region 4-6A: Rockledge 4, Plantation American Heritage 2
▪ Region 4-5A: Coral Springs Charter 10, Key West 4