TERRA Is A Cinderella Story No More
As the temperatures dipped in South Florida in mid-January, excitement around the TERRA Wolves baseball program has never been higher. Manager Hernan Adames has built the team from the ground up in just five years.
The Wolves began playing varsity games just three years ago and have gone from a little known magnet school in Kendall to believing they can compete for a state title this season.
“We have high expectations this year,” says Adames. “In years past we were pretty much the new kid on the block being a magnet school. At this moment in time we feel that we can take it all the way to jetBlue Park in Fort Myers.”
With many of his players entering their second and third year on the varsity, Adames feels his team has the ability to compete with and beat some of the best teams around.
Senior All-District performer Ruben Pino (.338 BA, 19 RBI, 19 R) gave a simple answer when asked what his team’s goals are for the season: “States.”
The Wolves are coming off a season in which they finished 11-14 after ending 5-17 in 2012. TERRA got off to a blistering 5-0 start in 2013, won their first playoff game in school history and finished as the District 4A-16 runner-up to LaSalle, before falling to St. Brendan in the regional quarterfinal.
“None of us had been in a playoff game of that caliber,” senior Alex Saavedra said of the St. Brendan game. “Even though we lost, it didn’t matter. We were all super excited to get to that point.”
Saavedra certainly did his part in hitting .413 with 29 RBIs and three home runs.
Adames doesn’t want his team to feel content with last season’s success and he has pushed his players to top that this time around.
“Last year it was a Cinderella story and the lack of experience cost us some games,” Adames said. “We started hot right off the block and then we hit some bumps along the way, and they wouldn’t come out of it even though they had good games.”
After starting out 5-0, the Wolves were tripped up down the stretch going 4-6 in their final 10 games.
This season, teams around the county are well aware of TERRA, so there won’t be a the element of surprise this time around. After an increase in enrollment from 1,000 up to roughly 1,800 students, the Wolves moved from Class 4A to 6A to join a district with rival Doral Academy, Homestead, Belen Jesuit, Mater Academy, Northwestern, and Miami Jackson.
“We have to be able to play the game of baseball and not the opponent,” said Adames. “I have nothing but respect for all of those programs, but we can’t worry about playing this team or that team, but rather, playing fundamental baseball.”
TERRA’s best asset is their pitching staff. TERRA is deep on the mound with eight pitchers capable of coming into a game and throwing strikes.
“The core of this program is the pitching staff. We have seven juniors and one sophomore on the staff and God willing if we stay healthy we’ll have a good chance to compete,” Adames said. “We have built a pretty strong foundation because our pitching coach Chris Vazquez has done an unbelievable job developing the staff.”
Juniors Frank Bartow (2.44 ERA), Tyler Pritchard (2.38 ERA, 35.1 IP, 24 K), and 4A-14 pitcher of the year Alexis Valladares (5-5, 49 IP, 60 K) will form the core of the staff. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Andres Perez went 4-2 with 20 strikeouts as a freshman on the varsity in 2013 and already has a fastball topping out at 87 mph, according to Adames.
The staff also expects a significant contribution from pitcher Jose Varela, a freshman. Varela competed with the Team USA 14-and-under developmental roster in North Carolina, and is the only freshman on the varsity roster.
“We’re young but we have some great talent on the team,” Bartow said. “If anyone goes down or runs into trouble we have a pretty deep pitching staff to back them up.”
At the plate, TERRA’s point of emphasis was situational-hitting in the offseason. Adames believes his team left a few wins on the table because they couldn’t come up with timely hits in key situations. The hitters have worked on shortening their swing and hitting the ball to the opposite field.
“Situational hitting is what we’ve worked on the most, just being able to take the ball the other way,” said Pino.
The coaches have let their players know that positions one through nine need to be leaders on the field.
“We are looking for hitters. We know they can play defense but we need eight position players that can hit and do what’s asked of them in situational hitting,” Adames said. “Rich Hofman, who is someone I admire over at SLAM Charter, when he was at Westminster Christian, it seemed like his team had eight shortstops all over the field.”
The Wolves took their baseball development seriously this offseason with many of their returning players playing in national tournaments to improve their skill set. Sophomore All-District third baseman Ozzie Millet (.309 BA, 10 RBI) was named an alternate to the Team USA 15-and-under squad. Junior shortstop and leadoff hitter Yasser Santana and sophomore second baseman Alec Ulloa both ventured to Tucson, Arizona to compete in the Under Armour All-America Pre-season Tournament.
In addition, up and coming players like seniors Chris Wydler and Angel Mestre, along with juniors Nick Lopez Marlon Sobalvarro and Andres Valbuena will compete for playing time throughout the year.
Adames credits the support from school administrators and staff as a major part of his team’s success.The school has supported the baseball team since their first game five years ago. The school recently purchased a new portable backstop for the baseball team to use during batting practice.
“We are led by our Principal Carrie Montano and Athletic Director Ms. Nelson and in our school the most important thing is our academics,” said Adames.
TERRA is an environmental research institute that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. The staff keeps tabs on his players academics so he doesn’t have to.
“The one thing we don’t have to worry about is grades,” says Adames. “We have an team average GPA of a 4.4. When I was in school I didn’t know you could get higher than a 4.0, I would have been great if I could have taken advanced placement phys ed.”
With the new season just around the corner, TERRA is on a mission to prove they belong in the discussion with the best teams around.
“There’s no more Cinderella story, people know that TERRA is for real,” proclaimed Adames. “When the clock hits 12 and the bells are ringing, Cinderella is not disappearing because we’re here to compete against the best in South Florida to try to get to Fort Myers for the state championships.”