SLAM, Bam, Thank You Ma’am!
Every great story needs a hero.
In the program annuals of the SLAM Academy record books, history is only just begun for the second-year program. The Titans are in their first year of district play, and like any new program most of its accomplishments are being done for the first time. Each big moment seems to outshine the last, as the club heads towards it first district playoff.
On Thursday afternoon in the Black Bracket championship of the HSBN March Madness Shootout presented by Galeo Spices, SLAM Academy wrote it’s most exciting chapter to date. The Titans came back late to earn a 6-5 victory over North Broward Prep to walk off the field at Paul Demie Mainieri Field as tournament champions.
The hero for the day was sophomore catcher Jose Garcia, who slugged two, two-run home runs for SLAM. With North Broward up 4-0, Garcia drove a 1-1 offering over the left field fence to cut the deficit in half in the fourth. His next trip to the plate brought the same results, this time tying things at five each in the sixth.
“I was just trying to follow the instruction from my coach, to just get a pitch to drive, and I just wanted to help my team to score,” Garcia said. “At the end of the day, that is how you win a ball game. I really wanted to win this because it is the first championship trophy for SLAM Academy, so I really wanted to help and bring that home to us. That was really my mindset was to put the ball in play.”
Just as he did the entire tournament, leadoff man Jeter Downs got SLAM going with a single to start the fourth. Downs was erased on a fielder’s choice that put Brian Frias on first and brought Garcia to the dish for his first big moment. Frias also walked to give him a base runner when Garcia came back around in the sixth. The SLAM catcher admitted that with both swings he was more concerned with driving the ball and moving runners then trying to clear the yard.
“I got to jog, so it was better,” Garcia said. “It was just amazing, and mind-blowing. It is not for me, it is for my teammates. They got on base for me and trusted me to put the ball in play and drive it somewhere so we could score. It’s a team effort and it’s a great team win.”
North Broward went ahead early on, as Andres Sierra reached on an error and scored on an RBI single from Anthony Masiello in the third. Jared Schwait added a big two-RBI double to score CJ Roth and Brian Fagan, and Frances Camacho had an RBI ground out to drive in Max Tannenbaum to give the Eagles a nice cushion after four.
But SLAM kept pounding away and building off momentum. The Titans capitalized on an error that extended the fourth, allowing Jon Fernandez to reach base and eventually score. Fernandez also reached base following Garcia’s second longball, this time scoring on a single up the middle from Arturo Sardina that delivered the deciding run.
“We’ve been playing pretty well, we just didn’t play defense well enough to win today,” North Broward Prep Manager Brian Campbell said. “Plus, they got some big hits and we knew that if we gave them extra outs we were going to be in trouble because they swing it. That’s a good team, and hats off and congratulations. They played well enough to win, and we didn’t.”
SLAM starter Chauncey Nunez was effective in five full innings, before turning things over to Andre Velez. Nunez scattered six hits and three walks, allowing three earned runs and picking up three strikeouts. With Velez on the hill when the Titans reversed their fortunes in the bottom of the sixth, the veteran right-hander locked in for the final inning to close things out for his club.
“Any championship game is always a nail-biter,” SLAM Manager Alfonso Otero said. “I give a lot of credit to these kids. They were down four-to-nothing early, and there was no panic in them. North Broward Prep was tough and the guy on the mound was a pretty good pitcher with a pretty good breaking ball. Even though we had some miscues, when we had to have big hits we got them.”
North Broward starter Anthony Masiello was sharp through five innings, allowing two earned runs while striking out seven. The left-hander pounded the strike zone on 53 of his 73 pitches, challenging hitters and trusting his defense. Most batters fell behind in the count and had to battle back against the tough southpaw.
“I preach to the guys that when you have two strikes just put the ball in play and anything happens,” Otero said. “We took the lead and we had our senior Andrew Velez there to close it out. It’s a great win for our school, our kids and our program. I am just happy for our administration and our school.”
While every member of the SLAM roster was quick to point out the contributions all around, the general consent also centered on the poise of the standout shortstop Jeter Downs that kept everyone confident in the comeback. The sophomore enjoyed the chance to play on the same baseball field that his older brother Jerry currently plays on for St. Thomas University, and he clearly embraced that moment. Besides continuing his hot-hitting with a 2-for-3 day at the plate, Downs also made some nice plays in the field and was even given the green light to try a risky steal attempt on home plate in the first.
“I have to thank my coaches for giving me the opportunity to lead off and give me the green light to pick out the right pitches and put a good swing on them,” Downs said. “In practice that is how we play to prepare, is we play a game to 21 outs. We put a lot of pressure on us to always finish the game and get the last three outs in the ball game, which are always the hardest ones to get.”