Doral Into Regionals With 2-1 Win Over Belen
In 6A-16, the four teams were so evenly matched that nobody could have guessed which two would emerge victorious. After Doral’s 2-1 win over Belen Jesuit Wednesday afternoon, the championship game is set between the third-seeded Firebirds and fourth-seeded Mater Academy.
On Wednesday, the Firebirds sent their ace, Christian Cuba, to the mound to face the Wolverines’ ace, Pablo Arevalo. The two starting pitchers did not disappoint, taking turns shutting down the opposing offenses.
In the end, it was the precision with which the Doral batters executed offensively that was the difference in the cleanly-played semifinal game.
“It stinks,” said Belen Manager Jerry Albert, of being knocked out short of regionals. “These kids worked hard all year long, and nobody wants to see their season end without advancing to regionals.”
The reason for Albert’s frustration could be found in the right arm of Cuba. The Doral ace threw a complete game, consistently keeping Wolverine batters off balance, while inducing ground balls and pop fly outs. Cuba struck out six on the day, while scattering two hits. He did not walk a batter.
“He’s been doing that for us all year long,” said Doral Manager Ralph Suarez. “What he did today was special. He was in control the entire game, hitting his spots, getting big outs. He was great.”
The offense was able to muster nine hits off Arevalo, but the Belen ace wiggled out of several jams.
The Firebirds jumped on the board in the first inning when Nelson Montilla hit a two-out single, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on an RBI base hit off the bat of clean-up hitter Robert Leiva. Montilla was in the middle of the Firebirds second run as well. In the third, Luis Valbuena led off the frame with a single. Carlos Pino laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Valbuena went all the way to third on the play. Montilla then lifted an Arevalo pitch to center, and Valbuena scored. The sacrifice fly made the score 2-0.
“That’s the way we are taught to play the game offensively,” said Montilla. “Our approach after facing Pablo earlier this year was to try and be patient with the off-speed stuff, and hit the ball up the middle and the other way. We have been waiting for this game since we lost to them early in the year, and we wanted to advance.”
Suarez echoed that sentiment.
“I have one of the best coaching staffs in South Florida,” said Suarez. “I am an old guy, and I have some young coaches that really know how to teach the game. Today was a great offensive approach against a great pitcher.”
The only real threat of the game for the Wolverines came in the fifth, when Alex Falla hit a fly ball to left that carried over the fence for a solo home run. From there, Cuba settled back in and retired the final eight Belen batters of the afternoon.
“I was just focused on hitting my spots, and mixing up my pitches,” said Cuba. “I didn’t really have the fall or early season that I wanted, so it feels good to kind of put it together here down the stretch.”
The district semifinal win was the tenth straight for the Firebirds, who also broke the school record for wins in a season with the victory.
“It’s been a special season for us,” said Suarez. “If we would have hit the ball and executed offensively all year the way we did today, we may have had only two or three losses. Our pitching and defense has been exceptional all season long.”
Now, the Firebirds will face the defending 6A champion Lions in the district final, a task that Suarez knows will be difficult.
“We beat them over there at their place earlier this year, so I am sure they will be looking for some revenge,” Suarez said. “With the district title on the line, it should be fun. We will be ready to go tomorrow, just like they will.”
No matter what happens in the district final, the Firebirds are now eyeing a long run through these playoffs.
“We don’t have any plans on our season ending,” said Cuba. “My plan is to go all the way, and miss my prom to be playing in the state finals.”
The 6A-16 championship game is at 3:30 Thursday, at Belen.