Coral Glades Beats Atlantic For Regional Playoff Berth
Following his complete-game, 3-0 shutout over district rival Atlantic on Tuesday, Coral Glades junior pitcher Matt Russo joked that it was a good thing his whole night did not go like his first inning had. The visiting Eagles worked Russo for a pair of walks that put immediate pressure on to start the game, and at that moment he was not envisioning that he would go the distance on this night. The right-hander dug in and induced an infield liner, setting the tone for a night in which Russo and the Jaguars’ defense made all the plays it needed.
Coral Glades clinched the top seed in 8A-13, which comes at a much greater reward than in most other districts. Since it is only a three-team group, the Jaguars (8-1) automatically clinch a first-round bye in the district playoffs by virtue of their 3-1 district record, which means they are automatically into May’s district championship game and have also punched a ticket to the regional playoffs.
“These are great kids and baseball players that want to be taught and coached,” Jaguars manager Joe Franco said. “To come into the season losing 13 seniors and some other kids that transferred out, and to have two varsity-experienced baseball players, and to lock up a regional spot in our ninth game of the year makes me so proud of these kids.”
Coral Glades got the scoring going in the third inning, and then added a run in each of the next two frames for all the run support Russo needed. Steve Rega reached on an error and Casey Shifrel lined a single past the shortstop to put runners on in the third, and after Jack Beard moved them over with a sacrifice bunt Joey Juliano lined an RBI single into right field to plate Rega with the winning run. It set a nice tone for the Jaguar batters, as execution of fundamentals helped manufacture offense all night.
Robert Joy got it going in the fourth, as he crushed a lead-off double into the left-center gap. Aaron Cornieles dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move Joy to third and Freddy Cornieles supplied a fly ball to center field for the sac-fly RBI. Jack Beard singled, advanced when Juliano lined a single that glanced off the pitcher’s shoulder and then scored on a throwing error in the fifth.
Around the team Russo has earned a reputation for being a hard worker, and the results are showing. Coach Franco noted that Russo has stepped up and taken the reigns as the lead starter and he has answered the bell every time. When the team has a game they really need to win he is the guy they go to, and his teammates get themselves up in support of him.
Russo got stronger as the game went on to eliminate any chance of a late comeback. He began to mix up his looks more and throw anything he wanted in any count. He had more guys swinging and missing in the later innings than at the start of the game.
“Late in the innings, in the dugout, I would just practice my form and make sure that I was getting my arm out and just make sure I was getting my pitches low,” Russo said. “Every time I missed high that was when I got hit, so I just had to focus on getting it low. It felt great that as the game went on I got better pitches.”
The Eagles (8-8, 1-3) threatened with guys on in all but the fifth inning, yet stranded seven base runners without scoring a run. Russo was not affected by the traffic behind him and always found his best stuff when he needed it most. That trust was rewarded by a defense that played error-free all night.
“Don’t think about anything except for the pitches you need to pitch,” Russo said. “Don’t think about the runner, because that doesn’t matter. It is all about the pitches, and as long as you get the ground ball outs the runners don’t matter.”