Late Calvary Christian Rally Ends Westminster Christian’s Run
The Calvary Christian Eagles broke open a tight ball game with a lot of late offense to pull away with a 9-3 victory over Westminster Christian, in a Class 4A regional semifinal Wednesday afternoon. Calvary Christian notched the winning run in the bottom of the fifth, and then created some separation with five runs in the sixth to finish it off.
The Eagles (14-15) will host Florida Christian in next week’s regional championship, with a berth in the state Final Four on the line. The Patriots (21-8) also advanced following a 3-2 win over Westminster Academy on the other side of the bracket.
Knocking the Warriors out of the playoffs for the second straight season was no simple task, as it was a 3-3 contest heading into the bottom of the fifth. Eagles third baseman Roberto Pena helped manufacture the deciding run, as he led off with a double past third base, timed up a pitch perfectly to swipe third and then made an excellent read and slide to avoid a tag and score on a fielder’s choice RBI from Daley Weppner. Pena did not hesitate on the slow roller to the second baseman, and he made a perfect slide to avoid the tag and slap the plate even despite a great throw from the defender.
“We got a couple of bad beats that didn’t go our way, and sometimes that is baseball,” Warriors manager Emil Castellanos said. “You don’t always get the right hops and things went their way. But it was a great ball game for six innings. In the last inning they capitalized on some runs, but it was a one-run ball game and it could have went either way. We gave up some opportunities and we didn’t execute some plays. That’s baseball. It’s not always going to be the way it’s supposed to be and that is a great team. You tip your cap to their kid on the mound, because he’s a dude.”
With both clubs playing high-caliber, playoff baseball, opportunities were not so easy to come by. Pena succeeded by using his opponent’s aggressiveness against them, as he expected a throw to second that instead gave him an opportunity to capitalize his chances of stealing third base.
“The play before, I knew the catcher’s throw had me, so I knew he was going to try to back-pick me,” Pena admitted. “So I knew if he tried to have me back-picked that I was going to take third. So that was what he did and I took third and took advantage of it.”
The way the Warriors (18-11) battled all afternoon, one run did not seem a comfortable enough cushion. But with one swing of the bat, Mykanthony Valdez helped extend that advantage with a solo blast that ignited a five-run six inning that put things out of reach for Westminster Christian. Valdez came up to lead off the frame and jumped on an offering with a no-doubter that easily cleared the left field fence for his third home run of the season.
Calvary stayed hot and added four more runs on several more solid hits to open their lead even wider. The late offense was the final spark that Calvary starter Christian Scott needed. The senior right-hander finished off his complete-game victory with gusto, retiring the final three batters in order.
Up against such a tough opponent, the Warriors went down with their best on the field, even though several guys were battling through injuries. They still managed to earn themselves a lead and stayed into the fight until very late.
Westminster Christian scored all of its runs in the third inning to take a 3-1 advantage. Nicky Perez roped a single to third and advanced into scoring position thanks to a sacrifice bunt from Richard Benitez, Anthony Vilar was hit by a pitch and Danny Perez then got the Warriors on the scoreboard with ana RBI single up the middle. Gabriel Patxot then lined a double past first base to drive in two more base runners.
But it was Westminster Christian’s last clutch hit of the ball game. The program’s quest for state supremacy with its twelfth state championship is put on hold for at least one more season.
“Coming here, I knew this was the best program in the United States,” said Vilar, one of six departing seniors. “I came in as a freshman and started my freshman year at shortstop. I was a defensive weapon that year and progressively as the years went on I got better hitting and my defense even got a little better. Just playing for Coach Emil and the rest of the staff is an honor and it is something that I can’t ever trade.”
Although the Warriors will return most of its roster next year, the club will have some key pieces to replace. More than just players fielding important positions on the field, on the mound and at the plate, the club also relied heavily on the leadership they showed. Just being on the field on Wednesday was easier said than done for some of them.
“At the end, those are the guys you are most proud of,” Castellanos said of his departing seniors. “We fought through a lot going into this game, and we had a lot of guys injured and they played injured. That’s just a testament of who we are. We’re Warriors and, even if we’re wounded, if we can still breathe we’re going to play ball.”
Westminster Christian is tied with Key West for eleven state titles, the most in state history. The team is a legitimate contender each year to go after that next championship and be a part of the next big piece of history for the program.
“We won the eleventh state title my freshman year, and I just hope that very soon, nest year hopefully, these guys can win their twelfth state title and feel what I felt my freshman year,” Vilar said. “Just do something for the program. Nobody is bigger than the program, so just make the program bigger.”