Despite what seemed like an insurmountable setback, the CCA boys varsity baseball team proved that with hard work and determination anything is possible.
In May of 2017, the CCA boys varsity baseball team left Hammond Stadium after a disappointing loss in FHSAA 4A State Semifinals. The defeat was difficult to swallow. As cleats left the clay and the boys climbed onto the bus headed back home, a resolve to return next year settled in their hearts.
This resolve fueled the boys as they trained, practiced, and mentally prepared for the season ahead. And the hard work paid off. CCA started the season with a bang—winning 12 of their first 13 games before heading to Cary, North Carolina for the USA Baseball National High School Invitational. This prestigious tournament invites the top performing teams in the nation to go head-to-head. The Eagles played hard and only lost to the tournament champions. The season was off to a great start, but then things took a turn for the worse.
Due to an unfortunate administrative error, the team was forced to forfeit 11 wins. At this point, the odds were against them and their hopes of returning to the State Championship field. The pressure was on and the team rose to the occasion. They made it to the playoffs, where the boys swept through the district tournament with wins over Miami Country Day (16-1), Chaminade Madonna (6-2), and Westminster Academy (9-1). The regional semi-final opponent would be against Westminster Christian, who handed the Eagles a 3-2 loss three weeks earlier. CCA would defeat the Warriors 9-3 and an opportunity to face Florida Christian to earn their third consecutive trip to the state finals. The state semi-finals would pit the Eagles against another program that bested them 15-8 in the regular season. Christian Scott pitched a complete game, working out of several jams and giving up just one run. David Judge would again make the highlight reel with a monster 385 foot solo-shot to left field in the third inning. CCA defeated the Buccaneers of Benjamin 3-1 and created an “All-Calvary” match-up for the 4A State Title.
“. . . they have embraced one another and built a strong family.” –Coach Kunkel
Almost a year after a devastating loss, the moment the team had been working toward all season was here—another chance at the championship title. Two juniors would play catch all night for the Eagles as Skylar Gonzalez took to the mound with Ben Rozenblum behind the dish. Gonzales threw a complete game, striking out seven and giving up just three hits and a walk. 58 of his 89 pitches were strikes. While Gonzalez went the full seven innings, the Eagle’s bats would work through four pitchers from CCHS. The CCA offense would register eight hits and four walks. In the final moments of the game, CCA’s Dante Girardi fielded a routine ground ball at second base and pushed it over to first basemen, David Judge, for the final out of the State Championship with a 5-1 win over the Warriors of Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater. Gloves and hats flew as the team dog-piled between home plate and the pitcher’s mound, overjoyed at their victory.
“It was great to be able to go to war and to coach a bunch of kids that not only dealt with some of the adversity that they have, but they have nonchalantly brushed it off,” Kunkel said. “At the end of the day, it’s the final seven games of the season that make the difference. They just wanted to play seven more games starting through the district tournament, and they got here. They got that opportunity, and it’s a really good group of kids. It’s a fun group that have really downplayed all of the distractions that could tear a team apart and they have embraced one another and built a strong family.”
Witnessing the dogpile at the end of the game proved to be a sort of cleansing for the Eagles baseball community. The 2018 season proved to be one of the toughest tests for any high school team. In the end, they passed. The boys remained united and reaped the rewards that came with the physical and mental commitment they made to each other. This is the team’s second state title in three years under Coach Alan Kunkel.