8A-16 District Tournament Preview
Monday April 21st
3:30 PM (5) Miami Sunset vs. (4) Varela
6:30 PM (6) Palmetto vs. (3) Southridge
Tuesday April 22nd
3:30 PM Palmetto/Southridge winner vs. (2) South Dade
6:30 PM Miami Sunset/Varela winner vs. (1) Killian
Thursday April 24th
6:30 PM Championship: Semifinal winners
Full Stats for 8A-16 can be found on the 8A-16 Stats Page!
Overview – With multiple state contenders in this group it figures to be an exciting playoff bracket. Top seeds Killian and South Dade have been among the top-ranked teams in the county all year, while Southridge has been equally dangerous and could also draw upon some extra motivation to get out from under the shadows and prove so now that the playoffs are here. Varela has come along strong to play its best baseball down the stretch, and both Miami Sunset and Palmetto have played tight in the district all year long. From top to bottom it is a group that is as competitive as they come, and the games should provide an unbelievable amount of drama and excitement.
1. Killian – The Cougars have been very consistent all year long. The team put in a special 2014 campaign, shaking off some early adversity to rally back and grab the top seed in the bracket. Killian is fresh off a victory over Columbus to earn its second GMAC title in the past three years, and has a lot of buzz and momentum heading into the postseason.
“We’ve been preaching approaches, and having a plan at the plate,” said Killian Manager Angel Herrera. “A couple of weeks ago we had a bad game against Southridge and we got back to the office and got back to the drawing board. The guys have bought in and executed tremendously and all the credit goes to them.”
The Spartans took it to them like no one has been able to in that mid-season meeting. But that turning point may have been the best thing that happened to the team, as the players and coaches have all come together since to get on the same page and play as one solid unit. The team has been on fire ever since, and has been incredibly tough to beat.
“After that Southridge game Coach gave us an approach to attack and we’ve stayed with it. We’ve been successful with it, so we’ve been going from there,” said second baseman Eddy Demurias. “I think this is the toughest district in Miami and our goal was to be at the head of it going into the districts, and we’ve put ourselves in a good position to be there.”
Not only does Killian have a lot of depth and talent on its roster, but it is strongest in all the right places. The club has great pitching with guys like Keith Stevens, Ryan Granda, Vladimir Nunez, Demurias, Miguel Deguzman and Mikhail Cunill. They have a rock behind the plate in catcher Spencer Levine, who works great with the pitching staff and is also the centerpiece to a dangerous offensive lineup. The team hits for a lot of power, hits for average and also runs the bases very well.
It is often said that a team is only as good as its last player, and for Killian that last guy down the roster is somebody with All Star ability. What makes the club so dangerous is that the players have just as much confidence in that last man as they do in their most important member of the lineup.
2. South Dade – The Buccaneers exploded out of the gate to start the season, barnstorming their way through the first half of the season to make a statement of how good they are. Although the team may have peaked too early in the year, it is a roster more than capable of sprinting right back to the top of the mountain in the blink of an eye. The team plays with great passion and intensity, and is as deep and talented as any in the district.
South Dade is guided by one of the most respected and savvy managers in the county in Fred Burnside. With over 40 years of experience, there is nothing that Burnside has not seen before. This great baseball mind helps the team adjust when it needs to, and also helps Burnside see ahead to what could come next and prepare in advance for just such occurrences.
There is no doubt that senior Erik Manoah has played a big part in the team’s success. The right-hander was a force to be reckoned with on the mound by leading the district in strikeouts, and has been equally lethal at the plate by leading his club in home runs and proving to be a very tough out. Manoah is also a very emotionally-charged ball player, and his passion has a great ripple affect throughout the roster. He loves playing in front of big crowds in big moments, and admits he thrives in those pressure situations.
“I actually like all the attention and the energy that is going through the crowd. I don’t find it intimidating at all,” Manoah admitted. “Pitching in front of a crowd like that is a college environment, so I guess it motivates me to go out and perform, and my team is also motivated.”
South Dade is far from a one-trick pony though. Jose Gorordo has been just as crucial to the team’s success on the mound, leading the club in ERA and victories. The overall depth of the pitching staff is also a big reason for confidence, as Christian Gonzalez, Luis Borges, Salvatore Finocchiaro, Devin Mead and Danny Vaughn have all proven their worth with big innings this year.
The offense has been equally deep and explosive. As a unit the Bucs hit .349 for the year, while getting production from one to nine. Arturo Paula, Jori Rodriguez and Angel Zabala have all excelled at getting on and getting in, while Sergio Lopez, Vaughn and Gabriel Cruz have done their part in driving guys in.
South Dade has experienced its share of struggles the last few years during the postseason. But with a deep and experienced roster is both talented and hungry, the team is confident that this is the season they can make their mark.
3. Southridge – The Spartans have every right to believe they can make this their year. Although the team may not have received as much fanfare as some of the other top clubs in this district, it did play just as strong baseball during the season. Now that the playoffs have arrived, it is its chance to prove that Southridge is a force to be reckoned with.
The road to the championship begins against a Palmetto team that it defeated both times during the regular season. Although the second meeting was a tight 1-0 win, it should serve as a reminder not to be overly confident and overlook the ability of the other teams in the bracket. Southridge simply needs to keep doing what it does best and it should be able to keep the season going.
What the Spartans have done best is pitch. The club has outstanding starting pitching in Octavio Mirabel and Erick Lopez, both of whom were among the most successful in 8A-16. The bullpen has plenty of talent as well, with stellar closer Isaac DaSilva supplanted at the back end to shut the door on opponents. Even though competing in the toughest district in the county, the pitching staff posted a 1.29 team ERA this year.
The offense has also been very productive at getting the job done, averaging over seven runs per game and hitting just over .300 as a group. The order showed a great balance of power and consistency, and has gotten production up and down the line. Josten Herron has been a key contributor in leading the team in hits, runs and extra-base hits, while Diandra Amion and JP Castenada have also been a big part of the offensive success.
Southridge won 11 of its final 12 games on the season, beating both of the top seeds in the district during that stretch. The Spartans have been as hot as any club in the area coming down the stretch, and they could very well erupt and peak now that the games have taken on so much importance.
4. Varela – The Vipers are a great example of what it means to peak at the right time. The club finished at .500 for the season, but scored some exceptional victories over some very tough ball clubs down the stretch to put itself into a nice position in the playoff bracket. Varela will be the home side in its quarterfinal meeting with Miami Sunset, which could prove to be the difference in giving the team the last swings in that game.
The two squads had plenty of exciting moments when they met up during the season. They split the series, with Varela pulling out a big 8-7 win the first time and the Knights responding with a tight 2-1 win the second time around. Now the rubber match will be for all the marbles.
The Vipers have an overall young roster this season, which has made it even more impressive to watch them succeed.
“The young guys are coming through, which is great. I love that,” said Varela Manager John Barbato.
While sophomores Tony Mejias-Rivera and Chris Allende have been a huge part of the lineup, it has been the performance of the veterans that have set the tone. Seniors Ben Murray, Kyle Gerdts and Kristian Quincosa have all played big parts, while junior Jonathan Bermudez has also swung a big bat in the order.
While the pitching has not been dominant, it has been reliable and effective. Nicholas Leon has been the main piece of the puzzle on the mound, winning some big games down the stretch and leading the club in wins and ERA. Chris Gomez and Krystian Negron have also been solid to provide the Vipers with enough starting depth to survive in the playoffs.
Even despite starting a lot of young new faces, Varela still managed to match its win total from a season ago. Now the Vipers are hungry and eager to get their feet wet in the playoffs in a game they have every reason to believe they can win.
5. Miami Sunset – The Knights won their first district title in school history last season, but it is a very tough road to try and repeat that feat this time around. The team has an established identity of playing solid fundamental baseball, and yet at the same time the club has struggled to create that spark that seemed to carry them along all last year. Now Sunset hopes it can find that magic again just in time.
The Knights have flashed all the right tools to be successful, but they have not been as effective at putting it all together at the same time.
“We are hitting the ball well enough to score some runs but we are not getting the timely hit with runners in scoring position,” said Knights Manager Armando Pelaez. “I sound like a broken record because the whole season has been like this. Anything happens in the playoffs and we are just trying to get better and work on some things, specifically on defense.”
There is plenty of reason to believe that Sunset can make a run this year. The team has plenty of frontline talent to match up with the other clubs in the district, with an established number one pitcher in Danny Diaz and a great combination of speed and power in the lineup with guys such as Danilo De Armas and Alfredo Iser. Adding to that equation has been the great play of guys such as Mike Rodriguez, Alex Beltran and Frank Melero, all of whom have flourished with important roles this year.
Even with many newer faces on this year’s roster, it is still an experienced team that knows what it takes to win big games. The Knights have earned their reputation of toughness and tenacity, and now it will be all about living up to that mantra.
6. Palmetto – The Panthers have the toughest road to the championship game. Yet this is a club that best exemplifies the overall strength of this district, as it is a team more than capable of making a run. Palmetto just may be the most talented six seed in the entire playoffs.
The Panthers do not have a great record to reflect how well they have played this year. The club has been in most games throughout the season, displaying great pitching and solid defense to keep it in each contest. While the team came up on the wrong side of things more often than not, there is a lot of experience and confidence that can be gained in knowing they can perform in those tight games. Aspects like this can sometimes provide the right amount of motivation to boost a hungry team chasing after a big victory.
Ian Exposito has been a key figure in the team’s success. The team ace has put in a marvelous 2014 campaign, finishing among the district leaders with 65 strikeouts, four victories and a 1.81 ERA. Jake Oliver has been stellar as the other main starter, while Brent Teller and Felix Garcia have solidified a solid relief corps.
The strength of the pitching staff has been even more crucial to take pressure off an offense that has been less successful at scoring runs. The team averaged less than three runs per game, and has adjusted to focus on moving runners and manufacturing runs to capitalize on every scoring chance. Kevin Barbato, Carter Nash and Kyle Toister have all been key role players in the lineup.
Palmetto can draw the most confidence in knowing they can go toe-to-toe with Southridge after the club played very well in a tough 1-0 defeat late in the season to the Spartans. The Panthers have proven they can lay it all on the line when they need it most, and now is that time.