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Varela Completes Regionals Comeback Against St. Thomas

JC Hernandez (21) after driving in two crucial runs for Varela int he regional quarterfinals.

Everything was going just fine for the St. Thomas Raiders at home Wednesday night against Varela, but the Vipers erased a 3-1 deficit and mounted a five-run comeback in the sixth to win the game, 8-3, and advance to the regional semifinals.

Simon Molina drove in the go-ahead run after the Vipers tied the game up on an error, and JeanCarlo Hernandez delivered the dagger with a two-run double to left three batters later. The program is reaching new heights under third-year manager Lazer Collazo, but he says it’s the players that deserve the most credit.

“It is the best season (in school history) with numbers and all that, coming to regionals,” Collazo said. “Now, we’re going to the second round of regionals. By far, it’s the players. It has nothing to do with me or any of the coaches. We were down 3-1 and they just kept going, kept going, kept going. That’s how this team has been all year. They just don’t stop.”

The Varela lineup is filled with talented hitters, and Hernandez is one of the youngest. He admitted that the double was the biggest moment of his career so far, but there should be plenty more to come from the second-year player.

“Down two strikes, I just had to have a good two-strike approach,” Hernandez said. “Just trying not to do too much and put the bat on the ball… It felt great, especially after they eliminated us last year.”

Edgar Colon (8) hurled five innings for Varela en route to a win over St. Thomas in the regional quarterfinals.

Speaking of young players that have made an impact for Varela this season, starter Edgar Colon might be on the top of that list. He leads the team in innings pitched by a significant margin, and only the FHSAA pitch limit was able to stop him on Wednesday. Colon finished out five innings, striking out eight along the way before turning the ball to Hector Gonzalez for two near-flawless innings.

“Edgar’s been incredible for the team this year,” Collazo said. “He came from Puerto Rico. He’s done an amazing job. He is a competitor, and lately, Hector has turned it up a notch. You saw it today. I think he struck out like five or six guys in two innings.”

St. Thomas’ pitching was strong too, at least until the sixth. Junior right-hander Anthony Ciscar got the start and only gave up one run on a sacrifice fly through the first five innings. That’s when walks began to pile up, and then the defense broke down. It was an unfortunate end to what looked like a strong outing for most of the night.

“Anthony is the hardest worker you are going to find,” Raiders manager Joey Wardlow said. “Ciscar works constantly. He had a great game today, and will probably be out tomorrow working again. Every single day, he has one mission and that’s to get better. That’s why he performs the way he does.”

Ciscar admitted that he lost focus a bit during the sixth, but he puts no blame on his defense for the error. Keeping the defense behind him level-headed during tense moments is something Ciscar has worked on all year and he knows pointing fingers won’t keep the team together.

“One big thing we’ve needed all year is a leader on the team,” Ciscar said. “I took that role upon myself, decided to start talking to the infielder more (during games) and getting people involved. Give a couple of hugs and make sure everyone wants it. It’s been a big thing. It’s why we’ve had a lot of success and it’s good to see everyone involved.”

Javier Caldera scores for Varela off JC Hernandez’s double in the sixth.

St. Thomas’ offense looked good early. AJ Groeneveld, R.J. Machado and Ryan Wolf went double-double-single in the third to drive in a run each. That’s all the scoring the Raiders would manage, though, as things settled down dramatically as the night continued on.

“We were in it,” Wardlow said. “We didn’t play a complete game, but in baseball, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is going to be the team that wins. We made a couple of mistakes at bad times, and they are a very good team that took advantage of it.”

The silver lining in all of this for St. Thomas is that the team is returning a good amount of starting talent next year, and those returners got to experience a district championship and regional play.

“I want them to absorb the atmosphere and competitiveness that it takes when you get into these regional tournaments,” he said. “And to understand that they need to step up and be leaders of the team with each other and the young guys coming up from JV.”

For Varela, the Vipers’ season continues on Saturday against a familiar foe in the regional semifinals.

“Going against Doral, they’re a good team,” Collazo said. “I think we’re like 0 for 5 over the last three years, but we played them a lot better last time. We’ve just got to enjoy this one for a little bit and then it’s time to get prepared for Doral.”

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