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Coral Reef Shuts Out Archbishop Carroll, 3-0

Starter Johnny Stathopoulos delivers a pitch during one of his six innings of shutout ball.

After home games, you can find first-year Coral Reef Barracudas coach Tony Meilan driving the infield drag tractor making sure the field is well-maintained and in solid condition.

Just like the infield, Meilan is trying to steer the Barracudas baseball program in the right direction and smoothing out the rough edges. After his team’s 3-0 victory over the Archbishop Coleman Bulldogs (0-2) on Friday, the Barracudas are 2-0 for the first time in many years.

“The first thing we are trying to do is build a sense of pride,” the former Belen coach Meilan said. “These guys don’t want to go home. They want to stay here and practice. We are 2-0 for the first time in six or seven years.”

Junior starting pitcher Johnny Stathopoulos shut down the Bulldogs for six innings while allowing just four hits. He did not, however, do it alone, as his defense provided the necessary back up for him to have a quality outing.

After walking the first batter of the game, Stathopoulos fought back but found himself with a runner on first and two outs. Bulldogs first baseman Alan Alonso got a hold of a pitch and crushed it to right-centerfield. It seemed imminent the ball would reach the gap and give the Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead, but senior center-fielder Jose Rojas dashed and dove to make the inning-ending catch.

“He’s probably the most athletic guy we guy on the team as you can see,” Meilan said. “The whole team feeds off of that guy. That catch I thought won the game.”

After that dazzling play, Stathopoulos felt it was time to step up up his own game.

“After Jose made that catch in centerfield, it woke me up and made me work harder to make it easier for my defense,” Stathopoulos said.

The swing in momentum carried over to the Barracudas’ offense, and they jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Junior Nate Rosa drove in the first run with a ground out to second base and senior shortstop Anthony Sola drove in a run with hard hit single up the middle. Rojas drove in the game’s third and final run with a sacrifice fly to center field.

Meilan said the Stathopoulos did a great job landing his curveball, and Stathopoulos controlled the rest of the game’s tempo with a strong fastball as well.

“I focused on my form and pounding the strike zone,” Stathopoulos, who walked one batter, said.

Sam Sanchez avoids some chin music in the second inning.

In the fourth inning, the defense continued to support its starting pitcher as Sola dove for a line drive but was unable to come up with it. Still, third baseman Armani Urena had the presence of mind to pick up the loose ball and make the play, which avoided a bases loaded situation. Stathopoulos then struck out the next batter to get out of the last jam he faced.

“Their instincts are very good,” Meilan said. “We rely on our athleticism and our instincts. These guys without telling them, they get great jumps on the ball.”

Closer Pedro Sanchez shut the door and struck out two batters in his one inning of work to record his first save of the season.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were coming off a tough-season opening loss against a talented Brito team. Senior pitcher James Oporta came into relief in the second inning and ended the night with 4 2/3 innings pitched, no runs, one hit allowed, and three strikeouts.

“We are real young right now so we can’t put too much pressure on these guys,” Bulldogs coach Andy Blanco said. “James is a senior, and that’s what we expect from him. He is coming off an injury so we are easing him into the season, but it was a positive how he kept us in the game.”

Coral Reef  has progressed from last year’s squad due in large part to the 10 returning players. Last season, the Barracudas did not win their second game until late March. Rojas, a senior and leader on the team, has noticed the development.

“Last year on opening day, everyone was a lot more nervous,” Rojas said. “This year, we just came out ready to play.”

Meilan feels the 2-0 start is something to be proud of, but he acknowledges that the team has a long season ahead playing some tough teams in the 8A-16 district. “We haven’t played anyone in the district, and I feel that is the best district in the state. JJust to start off 2-0 is great for these guys.”

Coral Reef plays its next game on Tuesday at Varela at 3:30 pm. Archbishop Carroll tries to capture its first victory of the season that day when Miami Christian visits at 3:30 pm.

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