Miami Christian Claims HSBN March Madness Championship
The Miami Christian Victors (9-4) are no strangers to winning tournaments filled with talented ballclubs, and the reigning 2A state champions proved that they are once again a serious threat to go the distance with an 8-2 victory over the Schoolhouse Prep Wolfpack (6-7-1) on Wednesday in the HSBN March Madness Shootout Championship.
The win is the Victors’ seventh in a row and caps off a perfect 4-0 run through spring break. Ranked No. 10 among teams in Miami-Dade by HSBN last week, Miami Christian has almost guaranteed a jump up the list over the weekend. Things are just now starting to click for the Victors, and now they have the hardware to prove they are back on the right track.
“This is a big confidence boost,” Victors manager Chris Cuadra said. “In the beginning, we were pitching well but we weren’t hitting. Then, we were hitting and not pitching. About two weeks ago, everything started hitting on all cylinders and we’re doing good, but we still have to keep working and getting better.”
Miami Christian’s pitching staff was excellent on Wednesday. Miami commit Christopher Diaz started the game and struck out three through 2 2/3 hitless innings before coming out of the game. Cuadra said that Diaz was on a pitch count today because of a tight back that didn’t need to be strained two weeks before a national tournament in Las Vegas.
Diaz didn’t want to come out of the game after 44 pitches, but he turned over the ball to Jeffred Fermin, who struck out three over 3 1/3 innings and collected the win. Hector Escobar pitched a clean seventh for the Victors, including a pair of emphatic strikeouts to bring the Wolfpack to their last out.
“I just come out of the ‘pen to pick up my teammate,” Fermin said. “He gave up zero runs, so my goal is to keep it going and give us a chance to win.”
Fermin did run into a little trouble. He walked two of the first three batters he faced in the fourth inning and allowed both to score. Schoolhouse Prep’s Lenin Nunez got the first RBI with a sacrifice fly and Aronny Pirela smacked a double to right for the second run. After getting out of the inning, Fermin locked in and delivered a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth that featured a pair of looking strikeouts.
“At that point, those are just mental mistakes,” Fermin said. “All I can really do is reset, breathe and try to do my best… I really wanted those strikeouts and to keep the door shut after our starting pitching got us off to a good start.”
Miami Christian was firing on all cylinders offensively as well. The Victors scored runs against four of five Schoolhouse Prep arms throughout the afternoon. Sophomore Josiah Acosta got the start for the Wolfpack and gave up just one run through the first three innings of the game. Willy Mendez got to him in the first for an infield RBI single, but Acosta regained his composure, got out of the inning and sat down six of the next seven batters he faced.
Trouble came in the fourth for Acosta, though. Denixon Suarez, Jose Alfonso and Jendy Gonzalez all singled, knocking him out of the game with just one out in the fourth. Gonzalez’s hit drove in Alfonso, and Kevin Quezeda came into pitch for the Wolfpack.
Quezeda could have gotten out of the inning after inducing two ground balls with one out already on the board, but an error at third base extended the inning. It sure looked like Schoolhouse’s third baseman got the tag on the runner – there wasn’t even a play at the base; third baseman Diego Melendez intercepted Gonzalez between the base paths — but the umpire ruled that the runner evaded the tag and made it safely into third, scoring a run. A double from Wake Forest commit Jeter Polledo would drive in two more, extending the lead from three to five.
Schoolhouse Prep scored both their runs after that, stunting some of Miami Christian’s momentum, but third baseman Ronny Cruz delivered a dagger with a two-run bomb in the top of the fifth. Mendez also had the hit that started off this inning and rally. He served as the team’s spark plug of the day, going 3 for 4 with a run, an RBI and several rangy putouts in right field.
“I felt that the pitchers were strong and that they were doing a good job keeping me off balance,” Mendez said via translation from Cuadra. “I made an adjustment and kept the ball up the middle, and that’s what I kept trying to do.”
For Schoolhouse Prep, finishing second in a tournament that featured two of the top teams in the county puts a period on a statement that’s slowly been made all season long. The Wolfpack is legit. They allowed just one run through the first three games of the tournament and only ran into trouble against a team that’s coming off a state championship.
“We’re okay with it, we’re good,” Schoolhouse Prep manager Jorge Aguas said. “We came out here and competed against Miami Christian. We just came out to play baseball and unfortunately, we didn’t produce. That was it. We didn’t get timely hitting when we needed a hit and we didn’t get guys on base at the right tie and that’s what kind of killed us. We just came out flat today, and they brought the intensity.”
Wednesday’s result might not have been what the team wanted, but it’s hard to look back on Schoolhouse’s Prep run throughout the tournament and miss what is clearly one of the new programs to take notice of in the tri-county area.
For Miami Christian, this tournament win could be the start of another special run for the program. The Victors won the final game of the season in 2018, 2019 and 2022 (there were no FHSAA playoffs in 2020), and they are making the appropriate adjustments early on in the year to get back to the top of the mountain.
“We struggled in the beginning a little bit, but I knew we would get where we should be,” Cuadra said. “We should be in it for the long run and try to defend our (state) title.”