Christian Diaz Delivers Walk-Off Homer For Titans
By Mark DeCotis // April 29, 2014
propels Eastern Florida to state tournament
AVON PARK, FLORIDA – Waiting out three second-inning lightning delays totaling an hour and 53 minutes and nine innings of heart-stopping baseball Eastern Florida got a two-run home run from Christian Diaz in the bottom of the ninth inning on Monday to beat St. Petersburg College 10-8 to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2001.
The home run, at South Florida State College in Avon Park. was Diaz’s second game winner in two games and improved Eastern Florida’s record to 28-17.
Eastern Florida faces Gulf Coast State, which finished second in the Panhandle Conference, at 1 p.m. Friday, May 9 at Joker Marchant Stadium in the first round of the state tournament.
Tallahassee Community College won the other play-in game, routing Seminole State College 20-1 and will play State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota.
Diaz again showed why he was the Florida College System Activities Association Southern Conference Player of the Year as he crushed the home run to left field to score Nick Capra, who opened the inning with a single and to cross the plate himself into a mob of jumping, shouting and hugging teammates. Diaz also hit the game-winning home run in Eastern Florida’s season-finale victory over Palm Beach State.
While Diaz was overjoyed and overwhelmed by the home run he hit on a first-pitch fastball with one out, Eastern Florida head coach Jeff Tam was speechless.
“I don’t even know what to say, that kid (Diaz) is something special,” Tam said. “He’s amazing. He just comes up as big as big can be. I’m speechless. It’s absolutely tremendous to be in the moment like that. And to execute, he’s a special kid.”
“All in all it took 25 (players) and we came out on top. We were a little shaky there . . . but you know that’s baseball. They competed and they did their job.”
And yet another job completed by a team that has had its ups and downs but once again showed the grit and toughness it takes to win in the competitive arena of Florida state college baseball.
“This is a special group of kids,” Tam said. “They’ve bonded, they love each other, they’re a family and they can play. And they can flat out hit. They know they’re good. That’s half the battle, not fighting yourself mentally. We try to preach just loose free and easy and let the muscles fly.”
Diaz certainly let it fly.
“I was just trying to hit Capra in, he had a great at bat,” Diaz said. “I guess lightning strikes twice. The second I hit it I just turned to my teammates and put my arms up, I just knew it. As excited as I was. It’s the greatest feeling ever. Going to states.”
The teams combined for 25 hits with Eastern Florida pounding out 14. Every Eastern Florida batter had at least one. Eastern Florida also left 12 runners on base.St. Petersburg stranded seven.
Eastern Florida starter right-hander Jesse Schullstrom escaped jams in the first and second innings, allowing a runner to reach third base with one out in the first and runners at second and third in the second inning before inducing a ground out and recording two strikeouts.
Eastern Florida scored three times in the bottom of the second on singles by Alessandro Lima, Austin Leeney, a double by Angel Soto, a ground out by Austin Pereira and a single by Jack Machonis.
Right-hander Dulvis Borjas replaced Schullstrom in the third inning after the third and final lightning delay.
Borjas let St. Petersburg back into the game surrendering two runs on two doubles, a wild pitch, a passed ball and two ground outs. The Titans were guilty of two wild pitches and three passed balls in the first three innings.
Eastern Florida opened a 4-2 lead in the third on a single by Francisco Cruz, a sacrifice bunt by Lima and a sacrifice fly to left by J.J. Gould that plated Cruz.
St. Petersburg scored once in the fourth on three singles, leaving two runners, to get within 4-3.
Eastern Florida went ahead 5-3 in the fifth when Pereira received a bases-loaded walk with two outs scoring Diaz who was hit by a pitch for the second straight at bat.
Borjas surrendered three runs to open the sixth on two home runs and a double and was replaced by righty John Piriz with no outs and the score 6-5 St. Petersburg. Piriz prevented further damage in the inning.
Cruz promptly tied things at 6-6 in the sixth with a towering home run to left field with one out. St. Petersburg scored twice in the seventh on a lead-off triple, a walk, a throwing error and a sacrifice fly for an 8-6 lead.
But as it did numerous times during the season Eastern Florida rallied once again to tie the game 8-8 in the bottom of the eighth but left the bases loaded.
Lima and Gould walked with two outs Leeney reached on an error and then Soto hit a sharp ball to shortstop for an infield hit that resulted in an errant throw at second base allowing Lima and Gould to score.
Closer Chayce Hubbard took the mound for Eastern Florida in the ninth and struck out the side after walking the first batter.
That set the stage for Diaz’s dramatic finish to win the game.