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Everglades Pounds Way To Big Win Over Plantation

The Gators had plenty of reason to celebrate on Thursday, as they pounded out nine hits to score nine runs.

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Everglades Manager Oddibe McDowell knows his team is better than their record indicates right now. The Gators have gotten off to a slow start this season and have been dogged by inconsistent play.

Thursday afternoon McDowell’s squad shook off their previous struggles and put in their most complete effort of this 2014 campaign. The host Gators executed in all three facets of the game to pull away with a 9-0 decision over Plantation, in a non-district meeting played at The Swamp at Everglades High in Miramar.

“Baseball is a funny game. We have a pretty good ball club but our record doesn’t indicate that,” McDowell said. “We’ve done some things that hurt us and cost us some games, and we needed that today. Collectively all the things were going good; the pitchers threw well, the guys made the plays and we didn’t have any errors, and we hit the ball and put the ball in play. Overall it was a good job and a good effort, and that is what we need to do.”

When things are not going well, oftentimes players cannot seem to shake off the thoughts of those mistakes when they take the field for the next one. But on a beautifully sunny and breezy spring day that was perfect weather for baseball the Gators (2-7) put everything else out of mind and went out to deliver a near-flawless performance.

“We just told everybody to forget about it and shake it off,” said Gators first baseman Yabel Arzano. “Every day is a new day and just work harder and play better. That’s what we did today.”

While Everglades was not dominant in any one area, the team was confident and consistent in their play. After staking an early lead in the first inning they slowly piled onto it over the next five frames, while keeping the Colonels (3-8) off the scoreboard altogether.

Gators centerfielder Juan Gamaro accounted for the first and only run his team would ultimately need, in the bottom of the first. Gamaro drew a walk to lead off the frame, advanced to third when Enrique Perez reached on an error, and then scored on an infield groundout from Mike Van Ryn.

Everglades had a nice showing at the plate in collecting nine hits in all, and they were particularly effective hitting with runners in scoring position.

Edwin Bonilla earned the win for the Gators with four shutout innings on the mound.

Across the diamond, Plantation also found success in putting runners on base in several innings, but struggled to come up with any big hits to get them back into the ball game.

“We’re just taking too many strikes, too many balls down the middle that we should really be taking swings at,” said Colonels Manager Manny Aguilar. “A game like this is very tough. Pitching-wise we have to get better; there is no doubt about it. But today we had three bases-loaded opportunities and we just didn’t come through, so we have to take care of the little things.”

Plantation loaded the bases with two outs in the second, third and fifth innings, but each time the squad was unable to break through and put any runs on the scoreboard. Juan Pinzon and Nate Gomez both singled and Jeff Barr walked to fill the bags in the top of the second, but Gators starter Edwin Bonilla induced an infield popout to escape the threat. John Coval, Tyler Price and Pinzon worked walks to load things up in the third, before an infield groundout ended that threat, and Coval, Price and Pinzon all reached but were stranded in the fifth.

Although these efforts were not rewarded with runs at any point, it brought some satisfaction to the team to see guys be able to find success in getting on base. The Colonels are a very young and inexperienced group playing under a first-year manager, and have just one senior on the entire roster in shortstop Matt Costa.

“Some of the younger guys have actually shown they can also get on base. They have had some quality at bats,” said Costa. “It feels good because I have seen everyone grow. When we first came out here in the fall, and even in the spring, it was bad. Everyone was still working on their swings and some guys were learning the game for the first time. Now to see them do well and enjoy it, it is something good to see.”

While the Colonels were unable to capitalize on their scoring chances, the Gators managed to add runs to their lead in nearly every inning. Robert Paulino sent the first pitch he saw on the day scorching back up the middle for a single in the second, and then scored on an RBI double off the bat of Perez. Two batters later Arzano also connected for an RBI double. He added an RBI single to again drive in Perez in the fifth, and finished 3-for-3 on the day.

Designated hitter Raul Quesada also had a strong showing at the plate, reaching base three times and going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles while also reaching on an error in the sixth. Quesada’s best at bat of the day was actually his first trip to the dish, when he lost a great battle against Colonels starter Connor Jones by taking a called third strike on the tenth pitch of the at bat. Quesada also crossed the plate to tally a run for his team, coming in on an RBI groundout from Dominic Desisto in the third.

First baseman John Coval went 1-for-3 with a double and a walk for Plantation.

The Gators added four unearned runs in the sixth to give themselves a large margin and ensure themselves of the victory.

“On some occasions we hit the ball up into the air, and I try to stress to them that if you hit the ball on the ground things happen more in your favor than not,” said McDowell. “Hopefully things come together and we play like we did here today. Hopefully this is something that we can jumpstart and build on and get in the right situation in the right time and be right where we want to be.”

Not to be lost in the big offensive day for the Gators was the strong pitching from the starter Bonilla, and also left-handed reliever Dylan O’Connell. Bonilla earned the victory with four shutout innings of work, throwing 74 pitches and striking out three batters before turning things over to O’Connell. The southpaw was even more lethal, allowing just three base runners in his three innings of work and recording six strikeouts. O’Connell also struck out the side in the sixth, and retired the final seven hitters in order to squash any chances of a late Colonels rally.

The day belonged to the Gators, and the Colonels were unable to take that away from them no matter how hard they tried.

When Aguilar took over the team late this fall, he knew it was going to take some time and a lot of work to get the program moving in the right direction. The team plays in a tough district that includes perennial powers Nova and St. Thomas Aquinas, and they have yet to find success in winning any district contests the first time through on the schedule. Where they have found the most success is in coming together as a group, supporting one another and improving with every game.

The Colonels acknowledge that most people expect very little from them this season, but that they have begun to grow towards the expectations they have set for themselves.

“So far we have reached our goal by winning three games, compared to last season when we only won two games,” said Aguilar. “So far we have had our highs and our lows, and we just need to be smart baseball players from here on out. This is basically our second round going after everybody in the district, so hopefully we can get better with the situations on the field that we should be jumping all over.”

The Colonels Tyler Price walked twice and stole a base.

One area where the team has drastically improved is on defense. While the squad had a tendency to kick the ball around and play themselves into big deficits last season, the unit has grown to play more confident and cohesive on defense. Players are accountable for balls hit to them and guys are starting to believe that they can make every play that comes their way.

“We started off the season kind of slow, but I think through a lot of practice and stuff we have shown a lot of improvement defensively,” said Costa. “Practice basically consists of hundreds and hundreds of ground balls and outfielder work. Coach takes us into the outfield and takes us into the infield and that’s what we do in practice.”

It was not that long ago that Everglades found themselves in a similar situation, back when Coach McDowell first took over as manager five years ago. The program has come a long way since then, and even despite their struggles to start this current season they all know that they are capable of playing great baseball and competing with the best of them.

Sometimes the easiest way to erase the struggles of some tough losses is simply to move on and pick up a win the next time out.

“We just needed a win so we could stop thinking about the losses,” said Arzano. “We needed a win like this to build our self esteem up and get better as a team. Hitting-wise we have been doing OK, but on defense today we didn’t make any errors, so the hitting was able to come in and do the job.”

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