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Pace Falls to Calvary In Regional Semis

If a seven-run win in the regional quarterfinals wasn’t convincing enough, Friday night’s 7-1 semifinal win over the Monsignor Pace Spartans should leave little doubt that Calvary Christian Academy is for real.

The Eagles finished last season with a 9-15 record and ended the year with a 10-run loss to Westminster Christian in the regional quarters, but this year’s club just won its 20th game of the year, has claimed a district championship and will play for a regional championship on Tuesday against the Gulliver Prep Raiders. What a difference a year can make, huh?

“At the beginning of the year I said ‘what’s our goal,’ and we said win states,” Eagles manager Wayne Rosenthal said. “If you looked at us from the outside, there’s no chance anyone would have thought we’d be here right now. So, I told these guys today, if we win, we survive. If we lose, we were supposed to. That makes us dangerous because we have nothing to lose in this game. I told them to go out and have some fun, and we surprised everyone.”

While the win might be surprising to outsiders, Calvary Christian’s winning formula is out in the open for everyone to see. The guys at the top of the lineup (Cole Cleveland and Johnathan Gomez) get on base and the guys in the middle of the lineup (Braden Rosenthal, Carlos Lugo and Kingsley Guthrie) drive them in. It sounds simple, but executing even the most basic of plans while a ball is traveling 80-90 mph rarely goes as expected.

The Eagles got out in front of the game early with a three-spot in the first inning. Cleveland walked, Gomez doubled to put men on the corners and Rosenthal drove in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly. Lugo, who also started on the mound for Calvary, found the grass in left-center to drive in a second run. Grant Harrison drove in run No. 3 with a third-straight single after Guthrie reached.

“The goal was just to do my job,” Rosenthal said. “It doesn’t matter if I get out or roll over. I hit the fly ball and score him, and then hit a ground ball up the middle later to score two. I just did my job.”

Lugo’s RBI put the Eagles back in front after he gave up the lead in the top of the first. Luis Munoz singled in Sean Duffin, but that’s all the scoring the Spartans would do all afternoon. Pace loaded the bases in the second, but Lugo worked his way out of the jam and retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced, including the final eight in order.

At just 75 pitches, Lugo could have tried for the complete game, but there was no need to tax an arm of a sophomore with a very bright future ahead of him. Noah Diehl, who has been lights out in relief for the Eagles lately, closed the door with just 15 pitches through the final two innings of the game.

“On (Duffin’s) double, I just left a changeup up and he got it,” Lugo said. “Other than that, it was a pretty good game throughout. I was controlled. I just executed my pitches. At the end of the day, that’s all you have to do.”

Lugo says he doesn’t feel any pressure hitting in the middle of the lineup and taking the mound every few days as a sophomore. Braden Rosenthal echoed that sentiment as another second-year player in the same role. For a coach, having young guys like that, along with an experienced senior or two in the rotation creates a supreme sense of confidence.

“(Lugo) and Braden are my two best right and lefties and they’re both sophomores,” W. Rosenthal said. “Franco (Ruocco) has been our third, he’s our senior strike-thrower that’s done a great job all year. Any one of those three can go out there and do the job. These pitchers are stepping up.”

The Eagles are also getting some timely hits when they need it. Guthrie doubled in an insurance run in the third, scoring Jared Jenkins, and Aaron Vetter singled in another later in the frame.

The Spartans threw three arms throughout the afternoon. Dylan Llanes got the start, but Aiden Rivero took over after three runs and just one out in the first. Rivero lasted until the sixth, but Rosenthal’s two-run single forced another change, bringing in Carmani Boozer. All three are returning next year, and manager Tom Duffin is hoping that the returners take something away from the past two regional games.

Pace hadn’t won a regional game in two years, and this run was just the beginning of what’s to come from the group.

“It’s been a young club,” Duffin said. “The last game against Florida Christian was a big one for us. I was telling the guys that you picked a bad day to have a bad game. All the credit to Calvary Christian. It’s a shame that it ends this way, though, because this team has been through so much adversity. Injuries, moving pieces, guys filling in, suspensions. There’s been a lot, but I’m just super proud of these guys and this coaching staff. They never gave up.”

While Pace is returning a good amount of its starting roster, the Spartans are losing 10 seniors, including ace John Caballero and Angelo Prieto, who had two hits on Friday. Plenty will be playing at the next level, but it’s always a bittersweet goodbye after the final out of the season is called.

For Calvary, a win means another game at home and it will be the last before teams head to Fort Myers for the state semifinals and championships. Gulliver Prep will be in town on Tuesday to determine which club gets its shot.

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