Abolafia’s CG Leads Pines Charter Over St. Thomas
The Pembroke Pines Charter Jaguars (9-7) rode their starter, senior right-hander Paul Abolafia, to a 2-1 victory on Tuesday night over a St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (8-8) club that outhit them.
Abolafia went the distance, pitching a complete game and striking out seven in the process. The two most dramatic strikeouts of the game came in the sixth inning when Jaguars manager Carlos Iglesias had planned on taking him out.
He asked to keep the ball a little longer, and Iglesias gave Abolafia the chance, admitting after the game that he was on a batter-by-batter trial from that point on.
“I told him that we’d take it one batter at a time,” Iglesias said regarding keeping Abolafia in the game past the fifth. “After that, nobody got on base. The one batter at a time became no one gets on. I mean, he did outstanding. I couldn’t take him out. Once he got on a roll, he just faced the challenge and came through for us.”
Another reason those strikeouts in the sixth were big for Abolafia was that St. Thomas threatened in the fifth and should have tied the game up. R.J. Machado, who went 3 for 3, drove in a run on a single but was tagged out at third trying to advance on a ground ball to the right side. Ryan Wolf’s single may have scored Machado in the next at-bat, and Frank Chiliberti’s flyout likely would have been a game-tying sacrifice.
Bouncing back from an inning like that is not something every high-school pitcher can handle. Abolafia lived up to the moment, though. Machado got to him for a third time in the seventh, but Iglesias was content to let him go one more batter with a favorable matchup coming to the plate. Abolafia finished it off with a strikeout and was mobbed by his teammates as the celebration began.
“My fastball had a good spin rate today,” Abolafia said. “First time through the order, it was a lot of fastball-slider combos, and the second time through, I started bringing out the splitter because, obviously, they’ve seen me already. So, that splitter was really effective at the end of the game and got me through.”
As good as Abolafia was on the mound, he made sure to give credit to his defense and catcher too. Dylan Escobar kept everything in front of him behind the plate and was the rock for his pitcher late in the game. Just ahead of the seventh inning, Escobar pulled in Abolafia for a pep talk.
“I told him to stay within himself,” Escobar said before recounting the exact phrasing. “‘Don’t try to be the hero right now. You’re already going to be the hero. So, just be yourself and keep doing what you’ve been doing all game because they aren’t handling it.'”
It shouldn’t be lost that Escobar is the one who put the ball in play that scored both of Pines Charter’s runs, either. A dropped fly ball in left field and a throw that went into the dugout determined the game, but Escobar will take it after dealing with bad break after bad break all season.
“I’ve been hitting the ball right at guys, everywhere,” he said. “Left field, center field, right field. Everywhere. So, to come up with that… the baseball gods are real. Especially in a situation like this, with our pitching doing his job on the mound, I couldn’t have asked for better timing.”
As good as Abolafia was, St. Thomas’ trio of pitchers nearly matched him. The runs on Escobar’s hit were the only damage allowed, and the offense was a timely hit away from tying up the game or taking the lead. Raiders manager Joey Wardlow praised his pitching staff after the game, putting little of the loss on their shoulders.
“Our pitchers did an excellent job today,” Wardlow said. “They threw strikes as well, but something’s got to happen when you get runners on base, and in that situation, (Pines Charter) had runners in scoring position and we didn’t make a play. Sometimes close games like this come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes.”
Wardlow said that he’s looking for a bit of intensity from the team over the last eight games of the regular season. The Raiders are in search of a 10th-straight district championship this season (2013-22; excluding 2020 COVID year), but they are still looking for a bit of consistency from this group.
The talent is obviously there. St. Thomas has taken down both American Heritage programs this season and Broward No. 6 Calvary Christian Academy, but the overall record still sits at the .500 mark. Some of those losses are to state powerhouses such as Douglas and Archbishop McCarthy, but others look very similar to Tuesday’s contest.
“We want to peak at the end,” he said. “If this is the lull in the middle of the season, we’re hoping to come back next week and turn it up… We have the Easter vacation coming up. We’re going to take the holy days off (the field), and I’m hoping that time gives these guys some direction so we can get back to playing the way we’re capable of. We’re a good team.”
Iglesias and the Jaguars know that the Raiders are a good team, and that’s why they’re considering this a big win for the program. That makes it three victories in a row for the Pines Charter with South Plantation, Taravella and Hollywood Hills up next. A win over ‘Vella could easily lead Pines Charter to a six-game win streak before closing the season out with a daunting four-game stretch that features two top-10 teams from Miami and one from Broward.
“Obviously St. Thomas is a well-coached team,” Iglesias said. “They’re always a great team and I always want to play them every year. It’s a challenge. It’s kind of like a playoff atmosphere. You play them, that’s what gets you ready for the playoffs. The kids were up to it tonight.”