West Broward Walks Off South Dade In Regional Quarters
Getting to extra innings was an experience in itself. South Dade built up an early 5-1 lead through the first 3 1/2 innings of the game thanks to sloppy play from West Broward’s defense. Eventually, the Bobcats loaded the bases on Buccaneers starter Oskar Amaya in the fourth, and Tulane commit Jason Wachs came up big with a Little League grand slam made possible by an error at third base.
“Sometimes, a grand slam doesn’t have to go 500 feet,” Bobcats manager Howard Stein said. “We know here, especially here, sometimes the wind blows in and you have to do small things. We look to make hustle plays when we can.”
Wachs started the game on the mound for West Broward, but he was pulled after just three innings and four runs (one earned) across the board. That didn’t stop Wachs from making an overall positive impact on the game, though. Aside from the game-tying double-turned-homer, Wachs made three at least three different plays at first base, which is not his typical spot on the field.
“I didn’t have my best stuff,” Wachs said. “But it’s very important to help my team in any way possible. Whether it was going at defense, making a couple of picks, or that last play sliding into the fence to save a run.”
Some good defense was welcomed by Stein, who could hardly find words to describe the uncharacteristic defense he saw from his team early on.
“Anywhere between six and double-digits,” Stein said when asked how many errors his team made. “It was bad and it was quick. Probably five or six in the first two innings, plus two baserunning errors.”
Stein said that the moment might have gotten to his players a bit early on, which helps explain the errors, but the Bobcats eventually tightened things up to hold the game in check at five runs apiece for five innings. Junior J.P. Querales took over for Wachs in the fourth and needed just 64 pitches to get through the next six innings
“It helped when J.P. came in and kind of relaxed everything,” Stein said. “The contact wasn’t hard, we had time to make plays and he didn’t walk guys. The first four innings, they started with a runner on second that didn’t hit doubles. So, yeah, J.P. came in and was awesome. He’s been awesome the last half of the year, and I can’t say enough.”
Aside from that fourth inning, South Dade’s pitching was just as sharp as West Broward’s for most of the afternoon. Amaya only gave up one other run in the first inning, and Kaleb Borek pitched 4 strong innings in relief after getting out of the fourth. He didn’t give up a hit until the ninth inning.
Stein praised legendary South Dade manager Fred Burnside after the game, calling it a coaching “masterclass” and the best he’s faced all year. Burnside deserves his roses and then some. The loss means the end of his coaching career as retirement calls. One more win would have been nice, but there’s no shame in what his club accomplished this year.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Burnside said. “We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles. What can I say? They fought, they battled. What more can I ask?”
Burnside said that his goal was to get the program back to where it was in 2016 when his first stint at South Dade ended. The team’s last district title came in 2017, and Burnside made good on his efforts by delivering a district championship to the program this year.
“I love the competition. I love the challenge of getting a ball club together,” Burnside said. “I got to coach for an outstanding school, South Dade High. The administration, everybody, has been behind us and supported us. We have one of the nicest facilities in town and the community, well you saw them here today. When I went to South Dade, there was nothing but a picnic table behind home plate, and now it’s a first-class facility.”
The days leading up to this game were filled with texts and calls from former players to Burnside, wishing him good luck and congratulations. Nearly two dozen of Burnside’s former players made it to the pros, most notably Toronto’s Alex Manoah, but the ones that have grown up to be doctors, lawyers and other successful members of the community bring him just as much pride. Those memories will always remain, even if saying goodbye hurts in the moment.
“It’s an empty feeling right now,” Burnside. “But, I’m ready. It’s time.”
As for West Broward, the season continues on Saturday with a regional semifinal against Columbus. A one-run regular season game likely means another close battle for the Bobcats, and just like Burnside, Stein is hungry for one more win this year. A nine-inning contest to open the regional tournament isn’t ideal in terms of pitching depth, but Stein isn’t stressing things with arms to spare.
“We’ve got guys,” Stein said. “We have our No. 2 ready to go. We have three or four guys ready to go behind him. At the end of the day, it’s playoff time and we’re happy to advance. We’re going to go to Columbus and anything happens.”