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South Dade Erupts For Comeback Win Over Keys Gate

The Bucs Salvatore Finocchiaro and Alek Manoah celebrate after getting a pickoff at first to end the second inning.

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It was only fitting that Gabe Cruz scored the final run to end the game. After his team fell into an early hole in the first inning, the South Dade junior exemplified the effort his club embodies by hustling down the line on an infield grounder. The two-out base hit that Cruz earned extended the bottom of the first inning, and just like that the tides had turned for the night.

By the time that first frame was over the Bucs had evened the score and grabbed all the momentum, and they cruised on for a 12-2 victory over Keys Gate Charter in the nightcap of the Battle Down South Tournament contest played at Ray Boyd Field in Homestead. Cruz had a big hand in the result, collecting three hits and three runs while reaching base all four times he went to the plate. The Bucs designated hitter scored the deciding run, and added a big, two-RBI double, as well as a triple in his final at bat.

What stood out the most was Cruz’s effort running the bases, as he pushed himself to maximum effort with every step. The outcome may have gone differently had the Bucs (2-0) not responded back after falling behind by two runs in the top of the first.

“Keys Gate came out chasing us, like every team is going to, and they put two runs up. We had two outs that inning and I had to find a way on, because we weren’t going to let them score two runs and have us stay quiet,” Cruz said. “So on two strikes I was just defending, and I rolled over on a curveball and I hit it perfect enough for me to hustle down the line and make something happen. From there I got on, we rallied up some more hits and we scored two runs to tie the game, and the momentum stood up from there.”

The Knights (0-2) jumped ahead right out of the gate. Keys Gate loaded the bases when Omar Baldo reached on a base hit that was sandwiched by walks to Brandon Espinal and Alan Quezada. Espinal came home on a wild pitch to begin the scoring, and Anthony Miano sent a high bouncer through the left side for an RBI single that drove Baldo across the plate.

Bucs starter Salvatore Finocchiaro bounced back from there to record consecutive strikeouts to end the threat. The right-hander settled in and allowed only two base runners over his next three frames of work.

Brandon Espinal scores in the top of the first inning for the Knights.

“He got a little more behind the baseball,” Bucs Manager Fred Burnide said of his starter. “He was getting underneath it a bit, and left the ball up. We always have to have our ‘A’ game because when people come to play us they are usually more motivated than in the past. Tonight I thought we came out a little flat, especially on the mound where we really weren’t focused in. We made a mistake our two and fell behind in the ball game. But the bats responded and obviously I am proud of the way we responded.”

The middle of the Bucs order did a lot of the damage. After Cruz reached in the first, Alek Manoah plunked a single to shallow center field, and Cruz did a nice job of reading and reacting to come around and score from second. Artie Paula reached on an infield error to push in Manoah and tie the contest. Paula again reached via an error that again allowed Cruz to score in the third and put South Dade up for good.

An inning later the offense caught fire and hit around the order by sending 12 batters to the plate, taking a commanding lead while also pulling all the momentum in its favor. Christian Ibanez got things started after he adjusted to a two-strike count and slapped an opposite-field single past second. Willy Escala and Sergio Lopez both walked to load the bases, and Ibanez scored on a wild pitch. Danny Vaughan dropped a single into shallow center for an RBI single, and, after a pitching change, Cruz jumped on the first pitch he saw to crush it to the center field wall for a two-RBI double.

The Bucs kept piling it on. They added two more unearned runs in the frame, and another the following inning when Vaughan deposited a first-pitch fastball over the left field fence for a solo home run.

“In every sport momentum is a big thing; if you get that one big play it just keeps rolling,” Cruz said. “Once you get that one hit, it is like gasoline was thrown into the dugout and everybody catches fire. Everybody brings it together and rallying up hits and before you know it we have a seven spot in one inning. That’s what happens.”

Giovanni Borgess pitched a perfect fifth inning with two strikeouts to end the contest.

When Cruz followed Vaughan’s jack by drilling a shot to left field for a triple, Manoah then lined a single to center field to plate Cruz and end the contest via the mercy rule. Manoah was 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs, and Vaughan was also 3-for-4 with two RBIs. South Dade racked up 11 total hits.

Finocchiaro earned the victory, recording 11 strikeouts over four full innings of work.

The Battle Down South Tournament has long been known as a tough and exciting slate of games every year. South Dade relishes the chance to host this tournament every year, and it welcomes the tough competition that comes with it.

“This is always a lot of fun,” said Burnside. “We try to get three northern teams and three southern teams and get a full week of baseball. The rain on Monday pushed us to playing double-headers every night, but the weather since Monday has been super. The atmosphere is great and we have seen some pretty good baseball.”

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