Miami-Dade High School Baseball
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Cervantes Leads Miami Springs Past Norland 3-1

David Cervantes again showed why he is the ace of the Hawks’ staff.

Monday afternoon appeared to be magic. Like most games at the Miami Springs, there was a certain atmosphere in the air that captivated the senses. Even the hot dogs and hamburgers smelled different. The aroma was the district playoffs, and the running adrenalin that comes with an all-or-nothing ballgame cannot be put into words. The season records didn’t make a difference when Norland went against Miami Springs; both teams were equal.

Norland faced Miami Springs in the District 6A-15 playoff match ready to forget the early season encounters with its rival. Miami Springs won both regular-season contests by a wide margin, but this time the game was far closer. The Golden Hawks defeated Norland 3-1 to advance to Thursday’s district final against the winner of Tuesday’s contest between Mourning and Goleman.

The Vikings’ incentive this season came from within themselves. They have been called an overachieving club that was shaped in the middle of the schedule into a contender by proving how good they are, first to themselves and then to others.

Meanwhile, Miami Springs (15-9) found its drive in the media. It is a dominant team hungry to demonstrate how good it can be with the motivation and the reason to be great.

“Honestly, coming into the playoffs, you do not want too much attention. You want the recognition, but you don’t want the attention,” Miami Springs Manager Willie Vazquez said. “You want other teams to be aware of us. Less attention means my guys play well, they play humble; they are relaxed and they don’t have too much pressure whatsoever. That is why is better to be under the radar and not worry about it.”

The Vikings seniors pose after completing a strong season.

Vazquez showed some improvisation Monday. He played senior Marlin Castillo, usually a center fielder, in the hot corner to preserve his number two starter Dylan Carter from playing the field. Castillo responded by scoring a run, driving in another and making play after play defensively.

“It definitely felt good. I was looking for a pitch to hit so I could get the run in,” Castillo said of his RBI at-bat. “It is always good the help the team win. I play wherever the coach puts me. Wherever he gives me a chance to help the team, I do it, I work hard and I try my best.”

Both teams squared up ready to give their best with their aces on the mound, as the Hawks’ David Cervantes matched up against Norland ace Cleveland Westbrook. The field was ready for the pitching matchup, and both hurlers didn’t disappoint. Cervantes pitched the complete game, giving up one hit and striking out five, while his counterpart Westbrook was as lights out as usual.

Westbrook, a senior who finished among the top pitchers in the county, came into the ballgame ready to give his all. But a shoulder injury stopped him from his mission of leading the Vikings to the district finals. Westbrook was a key player for the Vikings this year, not only on the mound but as the leadoff hitter and one of the most feared base runners in the county.

“This being my first year coming here, leading them to the first district playoffs in a long time, I feel like I did what I had to do,” Westbrook said. “I have been a leader, I brought everybody together and hopefully somebody can come up and fill my position so they can do the same thing next year.”

Norland Assistant Manager Andre Payne explained the impact of the loss of Westbrook.

Marlin Castillo scores the first run of the ballgame.

“We are going to miss Cleveland. Every team in the county would miss Cleveland,” Payne said. “He is our heart and soul offensively and on the mound. He had a lot of intangibles. You cannot replace him. You have to move on, but he is a great kid. I think he has a great future.”

The loss came as a hard blow for Norland (13-8). Helped by the core of seniors of Kelvin Harris, Jordan Owens and Westbrook, plus some interesting pieces for the future, such as sophomores Brandon Carter and Darius Price, the Vikings have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch. They came into the ballgame ready to give fans something to cheer about, and they did.

“To be honest with you, I think they came in relaxed,” Payne said. “My seniors, they put the calm in all the kids and we didn’t come in here nervous. We came in ready to play, and like I said, the ball didn’t bounce our way. But our seniors did a great job of leading most of this year. I’m definitely very proud of my team. I think we learned a lot. We are losing the heart of our team, but we have some young kids that hopefully can grow from this experience. We have to make up to go a little bit further that we did. Sometimes the ball bounces against you, but all and all, I am very proud of the kids.”

The Golden Hawks, meanwhile, are now waiting the result of the Goleman and Mourning game to know their opponent, and are ready for any result. All the motivation that came from the media has not turned into anger, but as a push to become even better.

“We work hard,” Cervantes said. “The media can say what they want. We are going to demonstrate what we are worth on the field.”

One highlight from Miami Springs came defensively in the sixth frame. After being hit by a pitch, Westbrook reached first and looked ready to do what he has done all season and go for the steal. As usual, he took his lead and confidently he took off for second on the right pitch. But Springs catcher Juan Kirk had a different mindset, as his throw got there a couple seconds before the slide, a testament of Kirk’s powerful arm.

“Since they told me he was the best runner out there, I prepared mentally for him. I came into the game prepared for our match-up,” Kirk said of the lighting-quick Westbrook. “I wanted to catch him, and I got my wish when I got him out on second base. I work to be the best, to give my all in the field.”

Kirk’s teammates and coaches have assured him he is the best catcher in Miami-Dade, and Monday he showed why. He is a standout defensively, and an intelligent hitter who is patient and clutch.

Cleveland Westbrook was the heart and soul of Norland.

“We are a great team. We play together,” Kirk said. “We play like a family. We are ready to give it all for our teammates, and we all are ready to give it all on the baseball field.”

Cervantes said the team has a slow-and-steady approach to going far.

“We are focused this year in getting as far as we can get,” Cervantes said. “We are going to take it game by game, inning by inning and pitch by pitch.”

Vasquez said the team showcased a complete effort Monday.

“I think these guys are ready for the next opponent. I think the guys showed today what hasn’t happened in a long time,” Vazquez said. “We had timely hitting, great defense and great pitching performance. Today we had everything together at one shot, which is great. Hopefully we ride the wave deep into the playoffs.”

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