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Chaminade baseball continues its resurgence with victory in the regional playoffs
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Chaminade baseball continues its resurgence with victory in the regional playoffs

Bill Daley

Special to the Miami Herald



Anyone who says you can’t make a 180 degree turn with a program has never met Mark McCoy.

After four years of success at West Boca Raton, McCoy was hired last summer to try to revive the struggling Chaminade-Madonna baseball program, which was coming off a dismal 8-16 season.

There were no new players coming over, just a roll-up-your-sleeves approach and hard work that McCoy implemented last fall. And the Lions saw the fruits of all that hard work on Wednesday night.

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Chaminade (15-9), making its first regional playoff appearance in a decade and ranked No. 5 in the region, kept its momentum going to a 9-6 win over the No. 4 seed Spartans in a Region 4 – 3A quarterfinals.

The result was deceptive.

Chaminade led as much as 9-2 in five and a half innings thanks to a strong performance by starting pitcher Manny Delarosa. The Lions bullpen struggled somewhat as Pace rallied with a run in the sixth and three more in the seventh, but the tying run never scored as the final out was eventually recorded.

Chaminade starting pitcher Manny Delerosa went five innings to help the Lions post a win over Monsignor Pace Wednesday night in a Region 4-3A baseball quarterfinal at Pace. Bill Daley Special to the Miami Herald

Before that, the Lions had indulged in a bushel of Pace errors, including walks, balks and fouls, to build their big lead.

McCoy and his players will face an even bigger challenge Saturday when they travel south to take on longtime state power Westminster Christian, ranked No. 5 in the state regardless of classification, in a Region 4 semifinal 3A.

“It all starts with senior leadership,” McCoy said when asked how he accomplished such a quick turnaround. “All three of our seniors (Eddie Blanco, Joe Billisi and Jack Miller) are great kids. They came in when we first met last August and they said ‘this is what we want for the program,’ so we actually called our fall program ‘Player Driven.’ We had a vision for the program and stuck to it. We trained five days a week, put on over 500 pounds of muscle because we were weak and didn’t throw hard and I, along with my coaching staff, who had been there before going to the regionals in West Boca, knew what it takes to to compete. at this level, because none of this happens by accident.”

After falling behind in the first inning when Pace drove a run on a leadoff triple by Jacob Poletto and the subsequent single by Rober Kramer, Chaminade took the lead for good with a two-out rally in the third that produced a pair of runs . After two easy innings, Pace starter Dylan Llanes, after recording the first two outs, began to struggle when he walked Gage Agate, sending him to second and then sending him home after Agate stole third .

He then walked Trace Zalman, who stole second and came home when Miguel Rosa doubled down the right field line. The worst inning for Pace came in the fourth when the Lions, despite only one hit (a Jon Gourrier single to right), chased Llanes by scoring four more runs (thanks to a walk and errors) to take a 6–1 lead to open. .

“All props go to Coach McCoy,” said Billisi, Chaminade’s first baseman and team captain. “He instilled in us a winning mentality from day one. Being a team captain comes with many responsibilities, and you always have to be an example for the others. It was stressful at times, but at the end of the day I just wanted to try to lead this team to the success we enjoyed. To come here tonight and beat Pace on their court in the regional play-offs was another big step for us and now we look forward to another big challenge on Saturday.”

DUFFINS LAST GAME

On the other side was Pace and a tough ending for longtime head coach Tom Duffin.

Duffin announced earlier this season that he would step down after leading the program for the past quarter-century, which included a pair of state titles in 2006 and 2018.

The Spartans, who finished 19-8, started the season 12-0 and it looked like there might be some magic dust in the air for Duffin’s final season. But the Spartans fell off from there as they ultimately lost their district championship game to COHEA on their home court before losing to Chaminade on Wednesday.

Monsignor Pace head coach Tom Duffin yells at Victor Mederos (52) after his home run in the second inning as they play Avon Park HS in the 5A semifinals of the FHSSA Baseball Championships in Fort Myers, Florida, May 31, 2018.

“Not much you can say, hats off to Chaminade, they came in here and played a solid game tonight,” Duffin said. “We started the season well but then hit a skid, tried to bounce back and got a few wins here and there but we never really recovered. Just one of those things: if you go bad, you go bad and we went bad in every facet. We didn’t throw well, we didn’t hit well down the stretch and when you get a combination of those, that’s about it.”

But Duffin fiercely defended his players, indicating he felt they overachieved this season.

“I really loved this group of kids that I went out with,” Duffin said. “At the beginning of the year I thought we might win six or seven games. We didn’t have the big names or high profile players that Pace is used to, but they still won some big games. They just ran out of gas on the stretch. The wheels fell off and we could never put them back on. Things don’t always end like a Disney movie. Sometimes they just end.”