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Doral Academy Falls Short In HSBN First Pitch Elite Invitational

The Doral Academy Firebirds with the Runners-up trophy for the 2023 HSBN First Pitch Elite Invitational.

The Archbishop McCarthy Mavericks took down the reigning FHSAA Class 6A state champion Doral Academy Firebirds on Friday night, 5-3, to cap off an extremely competitive HSBN First Pitch Elite Invitational.

Doral took the advantage early and controlled the tempo for most of the night, but McCarthy slowly chipped away at the lead until finally breaking through in the bottom of the sixth for a three-run outburst that decided the game. The key players in that comeback inning were the bats Mavericks manager Aaron Vorachek wanted at the plate in a critical situation.

Miami commit and shortstop Antonio Jimenez got started the heart of the rally with a game-tying RBI single to left that came off the bat with some heat, and third baseman Justin Lebron, an Alabama commit, followed that up with a go-ahead double that hugged the right-field foul line and was called fair by the umpires. First baseman Andrew Ildefonso added an insurance run with an RBI single that scored Lebron to make it 5-3 in favor of the Mavericks.

“I wasn’t nervous, surprisingly,” Lebron said. “For me, it was like my back was against the wall. I had nothing to lose. I didn’t take my best swings on the first couple of pitches. I wasn’t seeing him well. Then I thought back to something Joe Perez taught me when he used to come here. He would tell me that when you’re out in front on a curveball, start sinking into your back hip. That way you maintain your power. I was out in front, so I sunk back in my back hip and drove a double down the line. From there, I knew we were winning this game.”

Just like that, the 3-2 lead that Doral had held since the fourth was gone, and McCarthy needed just three outs to close out a massive win to close out the first week of the season. Michael Toral got the call and retired the heart of Doral’s lineup, Wilson Gonzalez, Jonathan Vazquez and Daniel Restrepo, in order. While the comeback may have felt unlikely at times throughout the night, Vorachek knew that his team would have a chance to complete the comeback if his two trusted bats at the top of the order got another chance to hit.

“To be honest with you, when we were in the bottom of the fifth, my whole mindset was ‘I’m getting these guys back up,'” Vorachek said referring to Jiminez and Lebron. “I knew I was getting them back up. Then I knew that I was at least getting them in the seventh; thank god they did it in the sixth. We were right in the heart of our order. I knew we could do damage. Thank god we made it happen, you know, with two outs. He (Jimenez) has ice in his veins. He’s done it ever since he’s been with me, and Lebron same thing. I had the two right guys in that situation.”

Doral shortstop Adrian Santana crosses the plate after hitting a leadoff home run.

As good as McCarthy’s hitting was in the sixth, it took some help from Doral on the mound for the lead to change hands. Michael Torres was credited with the loss, but he didn’t start the outing off struggling at all. Torres came in during the fifth in relief of Pedro Acosta and quickly induced a double play to get out of a jam with two on.

Something changed in the sixth, and even Firebirds manager Ralph Suarez admitted that his junior arm got a bit wild, especially after what Doral thought was a foul ball from Lebron. Although the score had already been tied up, Doral hadn’t trailed all night. Losing the lead on a close play will rattle even the most veteran pitchers, especially in a title game.

“I think at the end of the day, when that unfortunate play happened, I think it kind of threw things off for him,” Suarez said regarding Torres. “At the end of the day, a pitch here, a pitch there, it changes the dynamics of the game.”

The Firebirds are a veteran team, though, and know how to battle through adversity. Suarez doesn’t need to make excuses for his club. He got straight to the point and blamed an off night both on the mound and at the plate for the team’s misstep. Doral’s 10 hits should have been something to celebrate, but none of them came with runners on base in key spots. As for pitching, giving up too many free bases will always going to cost a team, even a reigning state champion.

“Listen, we hit five guys and walked six guys. My guys don’t do that,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell you. We hit five guys and walked six. They (McCarthy) had six hits. They scored five runs, you know? I mean, if you’re a good team and you walk that many guys and give up that many free bases, you’re going to be in trouble.”

Doral’s starter, Luis Rodriguez, didn’t go too in-depth on the game after the loss. After leaving the game with a no-decision through three innings, it wasn’t difficult to see both the good and bad from the evening.

“We did pretty good,” Rodriguez said. “Like coach said, we left some guys on base. Our pitching staff didn’t keep calm all that well. It was a good game, and that is all I can say about it.”

Doral starter Luis Rodriguez walks back to the bench after getting out of a jam.

Speaking of pitchers, Vorachek made sure to shout his starter Nicolas Gutierrez-Villa for his efforts in the win. Gutierrez-Villa could have melted down after a leadoff home run from Doral’s Adrian Santana started things off on the wrong foot, but he settled in nicely and went three innings strong. He ended up surrendering just the one run and allowed four hits while striking three and walking zero.

“It started off a little bit rough, but Nico has been on varsity since his freshman year,” Vorachek said alluding to his starter’s experience level. “He was one of our main arms last year. He was very dominant in big games. It started off a little rocky, but he got his composure and did a good job. He was on a pitch count, so that’s why we pulled him. We weren’t going to throw him more than 50, and I think we kept him at 48.”

It’s not lost on the Mavericks just how big of a win this is for the program. Doral entered the season ranked No. 15 overall in the country, according to MaxPreps. Vorachek said that the Firebirds deserve every bit of that ranking and more, but he also believes that this win proves that his club is right up there with the best in the state and country. His players couldn’t agree more.

“It’s a really big win for us,” Lebron said. “It puts us on the map and shows everyone we can do this. We’re up there. For us as players, it just gives us the confidence that we can hang with anybody.”

Up next, Archbishop McCarthy heads to Alabama to play in the 2023 Perfect Game High School Showdown, and the Mavericks are looking to hoist another trophy in as many weeks. Doral’s schedule doesn’t lighten up a bit with the reigning 7A state champion, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, on Tuesday.

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