8A-16 District Tournament Preview
Host: Coral Reef
Monday, April 20th
3:30 PM (4) South Dade vs. (1) Killian
Tuesday, April 21st
3:30 PM (3) Varela vs. (2) Palmetto
Thursday, April 23rd
3:30 PM Championship: Semifinal winners
Full stats for 8A-16 can be found on the 8A-16 Stats Page!
Overview – Killian comes in as the defending champ, and also has the top seed and home-field advantage this year. These factors add momentum to a Cougars team that is already as talented as any. Even with some extra initiative in Killian’s favor, the district title is still very attainable for any of the four teams in the hunt. These four have earned a spot through a tough slate of teams, and now it is a two-game gauntlet to earn the trophy.
1. Killian – The Cougars gained some nice momentum at the end of the season by battling to the finals in the GMAC county tournament. This senior-laden group has been through a lot over the past few seasons, and now they start their final playoff run together. Killian has eight seniors on the roster this year, all experienced starters who will all go on to play college baseball.
“These kids have been the core of my program for the last few years,” Cougars Manager Angel Herrera said. “A lot of them were playing since they were sophomores. They’ve been a big part of our success.”
Killian played a very tough schedule this season, facing such state powerhouses as Westminster Christian, Flanagan, Gulliver Prep and Venice. The Cougars struggled some at the start of the year, but recovered nicely to put in a nice season and storm to the top of the district.
The team split the series with rival South Dade this year, and now the rubber match will be the most important meeting since last year’s regional playoffs. Due to the meeting in the district semifinals, it eliminates the chances that the two squads could have played for a fourth time later in the playoffs. This time, the winner advances and the loser goes home.
Offense has been a driving force for the Cougars this year. Seniors Eddy Demurias, Joey Gonzalez and Keith Stevens have led the way at the plate. Meanwhile, youngsters Freddy Zamora and Herbert Iser have been coming along as the future incumbents to lead the program in the future.
Joey Gonzalez and Eddy Demurias also play key roles on the pitching staff. Demurias serves as the closer, while Joey adds depth to a strong starting rotation that includes Frank Follaco, Ryan Granda, Keith Stevens and Vladimir Nunez.
Killian has all the tools to win and make a deep playoff run. Earning the top seed does not typically mean a draw against a defending state champion, but that is the road how it is mapped out for the Cougars. Last year those rival Bucs made team history and made memories that will last forever. Now Killian must dash their hopes of a repeat if they are to kick-start a magical run of its own.
2. Palmetto – The Panthers turned some heads this season, riding a scorching-hot start to a lead all through district play. Although the Cougars overtook them for the district lead in the end, they still have proven they can beat anyone in the district this season. Now Palmetto looks to get into the district championship, and into the regional playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Palmetto has been a streaky team this season. It started with a six-game win streak to start the season, and also suffered a five-game losing streak around Spring Break. Currently the club is on a three-game winning streak to close out the regular season.
What has been consistent has been the pitching. Like nearly every team in the district, the guys on the hill have been the difference on the squad. Brent Teller has been stellar as the lead hurler, while Felix Garcia and Michael Gannon have pitched well both as starters and in relief. This trio tossed the majority of the innings, allowing just 18 earned runs collectively.
The offense has been equally balanced and effective. The Panthers have gotten a lot of production from a lot of guys, and that depth through the order has made them just as tough to beat. Michael Schwitalla, Carter Nash and Kevin Barbato have been big this year, and both Keaton Zargham and Carl Heldt have done their part.
This semifinal meeting with Varela will be a great example of baseball at its finest. The two sides have mutual respect for one another, and should have equal confidence in their teams. Seven innings may not be enough to decide this one, and it will be a game to watch.
3. Varela – The Vipers have put in a special season this year. Against the odds, the team has been among the top teams in the district all season long. Varela played itself into relevance in the district chase, and locked up the third seed early enough not to sweat its way to the end of the season. This club has proven it belongs in the playoffs, and that it has as good a chance as any to win and advance.
The Vipers got off to a hot start, winning the PAL tournament to start the season. They then rattled off four straight district wins to make waves in 8A-16, and they have played solid baseball all year long. Varela lost consecutive games just once all year, and has rebounded well from defeats. The team had a six-game winning streak and two three-game streaks this season.
“If you play the game the right way you will always have a chance to win no matter who you are playing,” Vipers Manager John Barbato said at the start of the year. “A lot of kids get intimidated because of who they are playing and they forget they are playing the game of baseball, and what we try to teach is to just play the game of baseball and let everything else fall into place.”
Varela has pitched as well as any. Nicholas Leon and Chris Gomez have both a deadly duo, combining to earn nearly all of the team’s victories. These two hurlers have accounted for over 75% of the team’s innings, as they have excelled at keeping the pitch counts low and working deep into games. When Varela does go to the pen, it is typically for senior Krystian Negron.
The offense has not been as dominant this year, hitting just above .250 as a group. The Vipers rely on big innings and timely hits, and guys like Erickson Canoura, Chris Allende and JC Garcia have proven capable of delivering in those moments.
Varela split the season series against the Panthers, and the rubber match is all for the chips on the table.
4. South Dade – The defending Class 8A state champions have a tough road to get back into the regional playoffs, needing a road victory over rival Killian in the district semifinal. The Bucs faced a similar path as underdogs in the regional playoffs, and can draw from that experience as motivation.
In rivalry games, most other things are thrown out the window. both teams are going to want it just as badly, and the game features two equals with more than enough talent to prevail. It will be a gut-wrenching experience for the coaches and an exciting thriller for baseball fans in attendance.
“What matters is how you are playing in April,” Bucs Manager Fred Burnside said. “Hopefully, we are one of those teams playing well at the end.”
South rebounded from a rough patch during district play, finishing with a solid overall record. Those district losses nearly cost the team a spot in the district tournament, and now the players have to carry a chip on their shoulders to get back into the playoffs.
South Dade has had plenty of pitching this season. Led by senior ace Jose Gorordo and fellow starter Kendrick Pico, the team has been in every game his year. The bullpen has also been strong, led by Salvator Finocchiaro and closer Giovanni Fernandez.
The Bucs still have an offense to be reckoned with. Gabe Cruz is one of the top hitters in Miami-Dade, while Alek Manoah, Arturo Paula, Danny Vaughan and Willy Escala have all provided lots of production.
On paper South Dade is every bit as good as the champions they are. It is not an upset win if the Bucs beat Killian, nor if they go on to win the district championship. But the team faces opposition that can have the same thing said about it, and it is anybody’s game to win.