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Pines Charter Shuts Out Lauderdale In GOTW

The Jaguars had plenty of reason to smile during their big win in Friday’s Game of the Week.

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The Pembroke Pines Charter and Fort Lauderdale baseball teams enjoy playing against one another. These former district rivals have continued to schedule games every season even after realignment separated them in districts, and that is because of the good, clean baseball that they know they can expect every time out. Meeting for the second season in a row as part of the HSBN Broward Game of the Week, the friendly rivalry continued on Friday night at Eileen Portice Park at Fort Lauderdale High.

The Jaguars have been clicking well to start the year, and that trend continued Friday as the club earned a 12-0 shutout with a complete overall effort up and down the roster. Pines Charter pounded out nine hits while getting contributions from every starter and many reserves, while also receiving a shutout performance from starter Anthony Garcia and reliever Daniel Rivero. The victory improves the Jaguars’ record to 5-1 to start the 2015 campaign.

“What was impressive about today’s game was that at the beginning we hit the ball solid and they made good plays,” said Pines Charter Manager Carlos Iglesias. “We kept with the same approach at the plate and had quality at bats, and one through nine and also guys coming off the bench all had quality at bats. We took whatever they gave us.”

The Jaguars broke open a scoreless contest by batting around the order in the third inning, plating three runs for all the offense they would ultimately need. Alex Monge-Rodriguez reached on error to lead off, and Peter Dourvetakis drove him home with an RBI single. Anthony Gomez followed with a double deep to center field that allowed Dourvetakis to come across the plate and keep things going.

Pines Charter was not done yet. Danny Rodriguez-Velez was hit by a pitch to bring up Trent Herzog, who turned in a productive at bat with a ball deep enough to left field to allow both base runners to tag up and advance into scoring position. Anthony Nogueiras then contributed with a deep fly ball to center field for a sac-fly RBI that allowed Rodriguez-Velez to tag up and score on.

Pines Charter added on to its lead with runs in each of the next three frames, as everybody got in on the action. Gomez led all hitters by tallying four runs and reaching base all five times he came to the plate. Rodriguez-Velez also reached five times, four times getting plunked by a pitch and also adding an RBI single.

Daniel Rivero tossed two shutout innings in relief for the Jaguars.

The production in the third would be all the run support Jaguars starter Anthony Garcia would need. The right-hander was effective at attacking the strike zone by mixing speeds and locations, limiting baserunners and recording outs.

“The work that he has put in this year is beginning to show, and we have tremendous confidence in him whenever he takes the mound,” Iglesias said of Garcia. “He was attacking the strike zone, and his breaking pitch and fastball were hitting their spots.”

Garcia kept the ball around the strike zone all night, throwing 35 of his 51 pitches for strikes and not issuing a walk all night. He scattered three hits over his four full innings, and finished with six strikeouts.

“It’s a lot of practice in the bullpen, and we have been working mainly on mechanics because mechanics are key,” Garcia said. “You just want to hit your spots and throw your pitches, and I have to trust my defense because they are always going to be behind me. There will be days when I am going to get hit or I can’t hit my spots, so I have to let plays happen. I trust them and we’re going to get plays.”

While Garcia knows he has a solid defense he can trust, he also admitted that he enjoys getting batters twisted around swinging and missing at an off-speed pitch. On Friday his changeup was not as consistent, so he depended more on hitting his spots with his fastball and his curveball. When he had hitters high in the count he focused on trying to keep them outside and not let them hit the ball.

A big part of the success of the Pines Charter pitching staff is thanks to longtime Pitching Coach Andy Moser. The veteran coach has a great working relationship with the Jaguars pitching staff, and Friday’s outings provided a great example of that dynamic at play.

Hassan Westbrook pitched in relief for the Flying L’s.

“He’s very vocal, and he likes to get one-on-one,” Garcia said. “He helps us identify what we are doing wrong and he always tells us how to adjust, which is good because I am able to adjust quickly. That is what I am able to depend on a lot, and whenever I get down in the count I think about what I am doing and take a deep breath and just do it right.”

Nogueiras was a guy who was able to do it right on Friday. The Jaguars center fielder added a two-RBI double in the fourth on a hard liner past third and an RBI single in the fifth to go 2-for-3 with four RBIs and a walk. The only time Nogueiras did not reach came in his first at bat, when he connected for a solid flare to shallow center that was tracked into the glove on an impressive diving catch from Flying L’s shortstop Reese Blankenship.

Although the Flying L’s struggled at times, the team also got some nice positive contributions to build off of. Lauderdale (1-5) has experienced some growing pains as a young team gets its feet wet at the varsity level, but Friday provided some nice steps forward to build off of.

Another such moment came in the first, when the Flying L’s escaped a bases-loaded jam unscathed thanks in large part to a double play on a hard-hit ball to third. Third baseman Justin Griner snared the ball in his glove, relayed home to the catcher to try and catch the lead runner, and then received the ball back for the unique 5-2-5 double play after the umpire confirmed it had been a clean catch and the runner was out after not tagging up on the play.

“The nice thing was getting out of the first two innings without giving up a run, because we haven’t done that all year yet,” Fort Lauderdale Manager Terry Portice said. “They are a young group and they are learning, and we’re getting there. Obviously we are not anywhere near where we need to be, but I thought the last two games the kids have improved greatly at the plate. We are swinging the sticks a little bit better and getting a little bit better pitch selection, and putting the bat on the ball more. Especially with two strikes, we have done a much better job of putting the bat on the ball.”

Although Lauderdale was limited to base hits from Keith Lopez, Trevor Jones and Hassan Westbrook, overall the batters had a good approach at the plate against two quality arms. The hitters were effective at putting the ball in play and limiting strikeouts, and the Lauderdale coaches were pleased with the progress the hitters are making.

The area where Lauderdale has struggled the most is on defense. Portice admitted that their pitchers have thrown a lot of ground balls and that the defense has not been consistent in helping their pitchers out this year. As this facet of the game has long been a staple of Flying L’s baseball, it is the primary thing that is being addressed to correct.

“We need to get a little bit more passionate and tough about our defense,” said Portice. “We really have worked hard on it, and the sad thing is it doesn’t look like it with how we play the game. But we are working extremely tough and I expect it to come around. We’re six games in, and I always look eight games into the season as kind of the founder of where we are at. Hopefully next week for the Northeast game we’ll be prepared to play a little defense and help our pitchers out, and see if we can come out with a different result.”

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