Pines Charter Sends Seniors Out With Big District Victory
Baseball is a beautiful game, the type of game that rewards a whole range of emotional highs and lows.
Wednesday’s lopsided district contest at Flamingo Park brought together two teams amidst two very different emotional moments.
Host Pembroke Pines Charter was celebrating the team’s Senior Night, paying tribute to five seniors who have all been in the program for four years.
Meanwhile, visiting Stranahan took the field with heavy hearts after Manager John Drouet’s mother passed away on Monday night.
Even with this tragic event, the team and its coach wanted to play the game.
“Like I told the team, even though we lost the game tonight, there’s no place else that I’d rather be,” Drouet said. “I hate to use a tragedy for me to build up a baseball team, but this talk’s about building men. You are accountable.”
Drouet understands his team is still young and developing, and within their district the Dragons are still working to close that gap.
Pembroke Pines (9-7) opened up with an early lead with three runs in the bottom of the first inning, and then put the game out of reach with a big, nine-run third inning.
The Jaguars improve to 2-0 in 6A-15, with two more district games still looming this week as the team makes up contests that were all washed out by rain earlier in the year.
“Monday we beat South Broward, and today we came in and did what we had to do,” Jaguars first baseman Cody Fuchs said. “The team’s ready and we’re confident to get back at McCarthy on Friday, and then Saturday we get Fort Lauderdale. We’ve had a couple of close games lately and it’s beginning to feel more and more like the playoffs.”
The senior Fuchs had a big day at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a double, triple, a run and three RBIs.
“The last couple of games I’ve been feeling pretty comfortable at the plate, and I kept it going today,” said Fuchs, who also reflected on the way the team has grown together this season after a bumpy start to the year.
“Early on, something was missing here or something was missing there. The last couple of games pitching, hitting and fielding all have been stellar. We play together and winning comes with hard work, and then it starts to feel kind of easy.”
Every starter reached base for the Jaguars, who won their fifth in a row.
Senior designated hitter Kevin Ellenbogen was 2-for-3 with a double, a stolen base, two runs and three RBIs, senior catcher Eduardo Espinosa had an RBI single and reached base three times, and senior Jesse Gonzalez had an RBI single and a run.
“My seniors, they all contributed to the win in this game,” Jaguars Manager Carlos Iglesias said. “It was a really nice event for the families and for the program. To see those seniors graduate after all they’ve done for the program for four years is nice. They are good kids.”
Freshman Mark Bejar scored a pair of runs as a courtesy runner before earning a pinch-hit single late in the ballgame.
Pembroke Pines has thrived under Iglesias in developing its players through their junior varsity programs and then turning them loose on the team as upper classmen.
“That’s an attribute to our coaching staff,” Iglesias said. “We’ve been together for seven years and we have a foundation all working towards the same goals. We get the players and we develop them, and by the time they are juniors and seniors they are ready to contribute at the varsity level.”
Despite the night of celebration for the home team, Iglesias and his squad were aware that their opponents were playing with such grief. On the field both clubs paid tribute the best way they know how, by playing the game with class and grace.
It has been a building process for the Dragons (6-10), and Coach Druet has learned to be patient while digging in for the long haul with his young players. Even when the team loses a game such as Wednesday’s 13-1 result, he is encouraged by the way his guys have bought into the program.
He recalls how the team used to give teams an average of seven outs an inning just a few years back when he first returned to his alma mater as an assistant, referring to the team committing errors that extended innings.
“Last year when it was a fly ball anywhere on the field, I used to picture the Charlie Brown cartoon with the ball popping out of the glove,” Drouet joked. “But this year we have speed in the outfield and we catch the ball.”
A concentration on defense has all but eliminated those sorts of mistakes for the Dragons.
Even as Drouet coached with a heavy heart from his family loss, all throughout the game as he watched his team execute as they’ve been instructed and carry themselves with composure he could not help but feel his spirit lifted.
The team had learned of his mother’s passing on Monday and it subsequently forced them to cancel their game that evening. But that night his wife messaged the team to let them know practice was back on for Tuesday, and the team would play on Wednesday.
“They were there, all of them. They were ready to go,” Drouet said proudly.
After his team fell behind 12-0 after three innings, the Dragons put together a bit of offense in a way that not only avoided the shutout but lifted the spirit of their coach as he watched them execute the way they’ve been taught to.
Jaguars’ starter Danny Melgarejo worked two perfect innings with five strikeouts, and eventual-winner Danny Kalter (1-0) followed with a perfect third frame.
But leading off the top of the fourth inning Ariel Vargas broke up the perfect game by lining a single up the middle that bounced off of second base and into right field.
Austin Ford then dropped down a sacrifice bunt that pushed Vargas to second, and Jose Lopez sailed a pitch deep to left field for an RBI double.
“Being down and putting some offense together, a base hit, bunt him over, a double and we’re scoring,” Drouet said. “Right now at Stranahan, we play old-school baseball, and it’s tough. I’ve learned a hard lesson after coaching great teams throughout my coaching careers, with great baseball players. These guys are not at that caliber, but the heart is that big. We play every game like its 1-0.”