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North Broward, SLAM Advance To Black Bracket Finale

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Coaches say all the time that pitching and defense wins championships. On Tuesday two teams exemplified that mantra by using that formula to put themselves in position to play for the tournament title. #3 SLAM Academy and #4 North Broward Prep both won to advance to the finals in the Black Bracket of the HSBN March Madness Shootout presented by Galeo Spices. That title game will take place Thursday afternoon at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens.

The Eagles held off a tough Mater Lakes squad for a 3-1 decision, while SLAM Academy stormed past Hialeah Gardens 13-3 in the Black Semifinals. Both teams rode deep starts from its pitchers to rise to victory. CJ Roth tossed five solid innings for North Broward Prep, while Jon Fernandez also went five strong for a complete-game victory that ended early via the mercy rule.

For a very young SLAM program, it is a milestone accomplishment already just to make it this far. The program is only in its second year, and playing in only its second Spring Break tournament. While most of the players are experienced varsity veterans now, as a team this is history they are blessed with the chance to write for the first time.

“For our school, for our program and for our administration this is awesome,” SLAM Manager Alfonso Otero said. “It’s a dream come true. The task at hand isn’t done; we still have one more game to go. Hopefully we can win it and bring the trophy back home.”

North Broward is coming off a season in which it advanced to the state Final Four, and now the Eagles have a chance to add another big moment for the current group of players. Getting to play for a championship is exactly what the team seeks, but primarily because of how it was earned to get there.

North Broward advanced by executing in a very competitive and exciting semifinal against the Bears Tuesday night at Ron Bergeron Field at Cypress Bay High. It was a game that featured a lot of fearless play from two athletic and talented defenses, and two gritty pitching staffs that were not afraid to challenge hitters. A win in such a game feels that much more rewarding, while a tough defeat holds much more honor knowing the effort given regardless.

“I think they came out here with the frame of mind to win the game and advance to the championship game,” North Broward Manager Brian Campbell said. “If we’re going to be in a tournament we might as well try and win it. I thought it was a well-pitched and well-defended game by us tonight. We didn’t swing the bats great and we left a lot of guys out there, but most of it was because Mater Lakes pitched and played defense too. We were able to grind out enough, bend and not break and come out with a win.”

Campbell could not have been more excited about his pitchers and his defense. The Eagles played error-free baseball and came up with some big defensive plays. Campbell lamented that if they can keep doing that they will always have a shot, just as they did Tuesday when the offense delivered some timely hitting.

The biggest moment came in the fifth, after Nick Bohrer scored on an RBI single from Max Tannebaum to put North Broward up 2-1. The Bears loaded the bases with only one out, and they went for a risky suicide-squeeze attempt. North Broward countered with a well-timed crash play in which the third baseman stormed in along the left infield grass and the shortstop swung over to cover third base.

The Bears had told the batter to slash at the pitch if the Eagles crashed, and when they did, he did. The result was a nice liner over third base, where Eagles shortstop Kevin Thomas came across to cover and snared the liner, then stepped on third base for the inning-ending double play.

“I was telling them, it was an outstanding game and I thought we executed pretty well, even on the things they’ve been coached on,” Temes said. “It was just that the ball didn’t bounce our way today. We had so many opportunities, they did the right things and everything they have been coached to do, and it just seemed like the ball wouldn’t go our way. It kept going right where they were at. It was an outstanding game all the way to the end; the pitching was solid, especially for the third day of the tournament.”

Justin Millares had an RBI double to score Nelson Williamson for Mater Lakes’ lone run. The combination of CJ Roth and the closer Tannenbaum set the tone on the mound for North Broward. Roth struck out five and battled through some deep counts against a tough Bears lineup. The right-hander was poised and confident, and he used a great approach against the batters, feeding them into the hands of a hungry defense.

“It is all about preparation; pretty much knowing when you are going to start and until that time getting in the game it is about getting everyone with you and on the same page,” Roth said. “It’s an amazing feeling with this team. I can just pound the zone, get hits and get ground balls. Kevin Thomas is amazing and always getting outs, Andres Sierra and Max Tannenbaum are always getting outs, and Brian Fagan is incredible with the way he stretches at first. As long as I know I have my teammates who do that, I feel comfortable.”

North Broward added a run when Bohrer singled and scored on an RBI double from Javier Comacho. Ryan Canard also scored on an RBI from Bohrer.

SLAM has plenty of arms who are also very confident on the hill. The right-hander Fernandez took his turn and went the distance for the Titans. While the Gladiators hit well, he was able to limit the damage to three runs. He also pitched to contact and forced batters to swing at his pitches. The Titans pitching staff is quickly growing up before their eyes.

“The best pitch in baseball is strike one,” SLAM Pitching Coach Al Lopez said. “That is the name of the game. That is what I emphasize and these guys are still getting work in the bullpen after games. I want them to use that for courage, because there is no defense for walks.”

SLAM rode two big five-run innings to the victory. Jeter Downs continued his hot hitting with a 2-for-4 performance that included a two-RBI single. Meanwhile, the last batter in the order came up with the big dagger when second baseman Brian Vargas smacked a triple with the bases loaded; collecting the three RBIs to break open a tight ball game.

“I had something planned to drive the ball out the other way,” Vargas admitted. “I saw the defense was playing in, so I put the ball in the air and did my job. We practice a lot of hitting and everybody came out hitting, from the rookies to the veterans.”

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