Caballero’s 12 Ks Lead Pace Over Miami Christian
The Monsignor Pace Spartans (2-2) leaned on a dominant outing from senior right-hander John Caballero Tuesday night to take down the reigning FHSAA Class 2A state champion Miami Christian Victors (2-2), 5-1.
Caballero was sharp from the very first inning of the night. He struck out the first four batters he saw and finished the night with 12 in total.
In truth, Caballero could have reached even greater heights had he stayed in longer than 5 1/3 innings, but it’s still early in the season and he was on a pitch count of about 85 with another premiere matchup against the Douglas Eagles next week.
Caballero finished the night after 86 pitches, 62 of which came in for strikes. He allowed just two hits, a walk and one unearned run to score in the fifth inning.
“I felt like everything was on, my curveball, my cutter, everything was on,” Caballero said. “I felt like my arm was loose and I was throwing hard. They weren’t keeping up.”
It was a strong and memorable outing from Pace’s top arm in 2023, but it’s something that manager Tom Duffin has come to expect from his ace.
“John’s performance tonight is what he’s capable of doing,” Duffin said. “So if you get that type of performance, you’re going to be in every ball game. He was just tremendous. He was in the strike zone, he has command of three pitches and he shut down a really good Miami Christian team.”
Miami Christian’s manager, Chris Cuadra, didn’t mince words when discussing his club’s performance. Cuadra has built this program into a powerhouse, winning state championships in three of the last four seasons played, but the Victors didn’t look like the dominant ball club South Florida is used to in this one.
He said that he’s not really sure what’s causing the slow start but that it’s “back to the drawing board,” to figure things out. The bats have been slow to start at times, but this was beyond anything he’d seen before.
“We weren’t the better team today, we didn’t show up,” Cuadra said.” We were a little flat. We didn’t swing the bat period. We have to swing it to win it, especially on the road.”
The Victors did get a solid start from right-hander Christian Diaz, who went 3 2/3 innings and struck out seven while giving up two earned runs on three hits and a walk. Diaz
“I felt good coming out here, trying to compete and giving my team the best chance they could have to win a ball game,” Diaz said. “Obviously, things didn’t go our way. Bats came out a little slow, but all I tried to do was hang in there and keep them in there, although things didn’t go my way. Most of the time, the curve ball wasn’t breaking as much today. It wasn’t getting as many swings and missed, but we work through that and try to compete.”
Diaz said that he could feel something off with his curveball during his pre-game bullpen. The mentality was to just push through it and figure out whatever works, but a healthy diet of fastballs meant that the Spartans were ready to jump on one whenever Diaz misplaced it.
Diaz only gave up three hits, but two of them were extremely costly. After giving up a leadoff single to Angelo Prieto in the second and seeing him move over on a Dyson Joseph sacrifice bunt, Diaz gave up a double off the right-field wall to Marlon Bravo. Prieto scored, and the Spartans had an early lead, but it wouldn’t take long for them to add on to it.
Jacob Poletto lifted a fastball over the right-field wall in the third to make it 2-0, and that’s all the scoring Pace needed to do to secure this one. Of course, they’d add three more runs in the fifth once Diaz was out, but the momentum swing came early off the bat of Poletto. He also was a part of that three-run fifth inning, laying down a bunt for a base hit, and showed off his range in centerfield with a putout that looked like it had no chance of being caught.
“I’m working on a lot of the stuff I need to work on, but I was able to showcase my skills today and against a good team too,” Poletto said. “There’s a still of work to be done, but I feel ready for it. I feel good.”
Miami Christian was never able to chip away at the lead, and Pace did a good job of responding the one time its lead was threatened. Jose Alfonso scored for Miami Christian in the fifth off an error, but Pace sophomore Eric Leal and Poletto jumpstarted a three-run bottom of the inning with leadoff back-to-back singles. Leal had only had a handful of at-bats at the varsity level coming into this game, but he finished the night 2 for 2 with a run scored.
Dylan Llanes closed things out for the Spartans and struck out another three Victors over the final 1 2/3 innings to bring the team’s strikeout total up to 15.
Cuadra says it’s not time to panic just yet. His team is in a funk and swinging when they shouldn’t be, but there’s plenty of baseball left to play in the season. American Heritage Delray, Gulliver Prep and John Carroll are all on the schedule for next week, and the Victors will play even more tournament games in the back half of the week.
“It’s too early for concerns or to push a panic button,” Cuadra said. “We just have to go back to work. It’s early in the season. Next week, we have a long week and will play about four or five ball games. We’re hoping to get it going then.”
For Pace, this was a strong bounce-back win after dropping two games in the HSBN First Pitch Elite Invitational, including a one-run loss to North Broward Prep that ended with a play at the plate. Duffin knows his team is capable of greatness, but it can also shoot itself in the foot at times.
“If they play like tonight, we can compete with anybody,” Duffin said. “But I’ve seen us play down and we can lose to anybody too, so we take it one game at a time. We try to go out there and execute what we’re trying to get done. If they do that, then I’m confident we can compete in every game. I don’t know if we’ll win them, but we’ll at least be in it and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Spartans will play at home again on Friday against Keys Gate Charter and then will begin prep for a March 10 clash with Marjory Stoneman Douglas.