Pompano Beach Wins Second Straight District Crown
The Pompano Beach Tornadoes were not sneaking up on anybody this season. A year after catching fire late in the year and barnstorming to a district title, Pompano Beach came into the 2017 5A-14 tournament as the top seed and the hunted. The team proved up to the task in defending its title, finishing off with a late comeback on Saturday afternoon to earn a 4-2 victory over Cardinal Gibbons for its second straight district championship.
“It was our goal and we talked about not being under the radar anymore,” Pompano manager Joe Giummule said. “Probably people think we’re better than we really are, but we were the ones that everybody was out to get. A lot of the teams in our district were younger this year and a lot of teams had graduated very proficient players, so our guys handled it well all year. We’re used to these tight game situations.”
Junior right-hander Chase Costello tossed a complete-game and also scored the winning run during a three-run rally in the sixth to lead the Tornadoes (21-3). Costello need just 92 pitches to go the full seven innings, and he stayed in control in throwing 61 pitches for strikes. He struck out five while allowing four hits and four walks, with two of those being intentional. He also went 2-for-3 at the plate batting out of the cleanup slot, although his time on the mound was his primary focus on Saturday.
“Me and Trevor Kniskern wanted to do the exact same we did last year. He went the complete game and then I went the complete game,” Costello said, after Kniskern did his part in a complete-game victory in the district semifinal. “It’s always fun playing this team because it is always a really good game. They are always really tough and play a hard-fought game, and they are really well-coached. It is those little things that count that have us coming out on top.”
Both teams already earned a spot in the regional playoffs that begin next week, but thanks to the effort given by both sides on Saturday it was clear that the playoffs have already begun. After a tough week of weather that caused several postponements, Mother Nature graced the fans in attendance with a gorgeous day that was perfect for baseball. The packed house at the brand new facility at North Broward Prep only added to the playoff atmosphere, giving it the feel of a big-league game in a big-league venue.
Cardinal Gibbons (10-17) delivered a championship-caliber performance after pulling off two upsets in the bracket to reach the finals as the #5 seed. The Chiefs have played their best baseball down the stretch to emulate the ideology that it is the teams playing best at the end that succeed. The success came as even greater reward for the team that is one of those younger groups Giummule spoke of, as Gibbons started freshmen at shortstop, third base and center field on Saturday.
“We’ve used this year as developmental during the regular season and gave everybody a chance with the hope and prayers that we would be playing our best baseball in the last couple of weeks, and we have,” Gibbons manager Jason Hamilton said. “This was our best week of baseball this entire year, and that is what you want this time of year. Just for this team to be in a regional berth is huge. We’re happy to be here, and once you get to the dance in regionals anything can happen. So this is the best time to be getting good.”
The Chiefs came out with the momentum that had carried them thus far, threatening right away in the first inning before breaking through to take the lead in the third. Timmy Manning got it started with a single up the middle for the first of his two hits on the day, Ty Crittenberger worked a walk and Joe Cerquozzi dropped down an excellent sacrifice bunt to them into scoring position.
Nico Rendina was intentionally walked to set up a force opportunity, before Manning scored off a wild pitch to put Gibbons on the scoreboard. Jarrett Hall was also intentionally walked in search of a double-play opportunity, but instead Kevin Hirsch drove a fly ball deep to center field for a sac-fly RBI that plated Crittenberger for a 2-0 advantage.
“They broke out kind of early in the second inning, so we had a long game to go with a lot more innings,” Costello said. “We usually come back and start up late, and we ended up swinging the bats towards the end and scored some runs.”
Chiefs starter Mason Kemp made that lead hold up during his time on the mound. The senior right-hander had the Tornadoes swinging at his pitches, needing only 65 pitches to go five full frames. Kemp allowed four hits and struck out three. His only walk came with two outs in the fifth to Matt Stephenson, which Pompano capitalized on for its first run as pinch-hitter Alex Skirvin singled and Mike Schuler followed with an RBI double.
“We’re a scrappy group. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but this group seems to find a way to hunker down and make it work,” Giummule said. “Twenty-one wins, that doesn’t happen very often, especially with the limited number of games the public schools play. So they have done it all season, and they don’t get tight in that situation. They’re used to close ball games; it is very rare that we are blowing anybody out. It is pitching, defense and scrapping four or five runs together. That’s been our recipe all year.”
That looseness showed in the decisive sixth inning. Kniskern walked and Costello stroked a double to right field to get Pompano in business. Christopher Ajello then deposited an RBI single to right field to tie it up and Jake Nord followed with an RBI single that plated Costello for the lead. Stephenson then delivered again by rolling a grounder towards first base for an RBI ground out and a valuable insurance run.
Although Manning singled with one out to give Gibbons one last chance in the seventh, Pompano responded with a double play that ended the game and secured the trophy. The Tornadoes will next host Labelle in a regional quarterfinal on Tuesday.
“We talked with our seniors last week that we wanted one more game back at home; we didn’t want Senior Night to be the last game for them there,” Gimmule said. “Now we’re playing on Tuesday at home, and we should have a nice crowd and the surroundings. Anytime you can host it helps, especially later on down the road in the playoffs.”
Cardinal Gibbons will start its playoff journey at 5A-13 champion Lincoln Park.