Coral Gables Athletics 9, Florida Cardinals 7
‘Espinosa and Perez Take Charge’
By Chris Errington, special to MSBL National
January 19, 2015, Orlando, FL – After watching the Florida Cardinals stage an unlikely comeback, David Espinosa had only one thought in mind as he led off the top of the tenth inning: Do what he does best.
Espinosa cemented co-tournament MVP honors with his third hit in as many at-bats, hitting a booming triple to deep center, then scored the eventual game winner one batter later to lead Coral Gables to a thrilling 9-7 victory. The win earned the Athletics their third Disney Classic championship following back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011 and climaxed a stellar tournament.
“I’ve always had a kind of knack for getting on base, so I knew I had to get a pitch I could handle as the leadoff man,” Espinosa said. “It was right there and I knew I hit it well. Being the visitors, there was a lot of pressure on us to come right back and score again.”
Espinosa, who led the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball League in triples this past season for the Wichita Wingnuts, never hesitated on the bases and cruised into third standing up. Eric Perez followed with a sharp single to right to make the score, 8-7 and Coral Gables tacked on an insurance run following Nate Huegel’s run-scoring single to center. It was only fitting that Espinosa and Perez were the catalysts for the Athletics’ game-winning outburst. The duo combined to finish 6-for-8 with a pair of doubles and Espinosa’s key triple.
“[Espinosa] just had a great tournament and Eric had some key hits as well,” Coral Gables’ manager Siby Vizoso said. “This is a group that just kept doing its job. There were no egos. Guys knew their roles and kept making plays.”
From there, it was just a matter of Ulpi Puente shutting the door on one final Florida comeback bid. The lefty pitched 2-2/3 innings of stellar relief of starter Willie Mizrahi, who’d no-hit Florida the last time he pitched against them.
Puente initially induced a pair of fly outs with the tying run on second in the eighth and was poised to end it in the ninth before Chris Martell’s clutch two-out, two-strike double to deep center plated Raymond Garcia with the tying run.
Martell finished 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles to help Florida, which trailed by scores of 5-0 in the seventh and 7-2 in the eighth, send the game to extra innings.
“Our team never quit,” said Florida manager Roberto Quiroga through an interpreter. “But this was a long tournament for us. We had to play four [round-robin] games, while everyone else got to play three, and we ran out of pitching. We had our chances to win it in the ninth and tenth.”
Espinosa followed with his triple on Garcia’s first pitch, highlighting back-to-back starring roles. After finishing round-robin play 2-1, Espinosa doubled in the bottom of the ninth inning of a playoff game against the Tainos Marlins. He then scored the game-winning run on Ed Goscicki’s double to send Coral Gables back to the title game.
Florida, which scored 40 runs, including a 6-0 loss to the Athletics, finished round-robin play 3-1 and earned its ticket to the championship with a thrilling 2-1 playoff victory over Pensacola.
Athletics 200 100 220 2 – 9 15 1
Cardinals 000 000 241 0 – 7 12 1
WP: Puente. LP: Garcia. Pitching: Mizrahi, Puente (8) and Brogden (CG). Morales, Garcia (10), Martell (10) and Salas (F).