Posted: 2:01 pm Friday, April 15th, 2011
By Matt Porter
That mission has an excellent chance of becoming accomplished.
No matter what happens tonight — Gardens-Jupiter and Royal Palm Beach-Atlantic are the final two games of the District 9-6A schedule — the Chiefs are locked into the No. 3 seed in the 9-6A tournament, which begins next Monday with an 8-9 play-in game.
They will play one of Park Vista, Seminole Ridge or Atlantic in the first round, and they know they have Kyle Smith going that night.
Well, they have Smith is the phrase heard in the stands at every area ballpark when discussing Santaluces (14-8, No. 6 in the Post). And yes, their UF-committed ace is the area’s most consistent force, giving them a chance to beat anyone, but they have more than Smith.
The Chiefs have table-setters in left fielder Zach Salvidar and second baseman Mikey Cohen (team-high .456), a solid catcher in Ryan Church (.344), a brother duo (Eric and Ernie Cabrera) that has come through with some clutch hits and a lineup that has been on fire the last three weeks.
Turning point of the season? That’s easy: April 1 against then-No. 1 Palm Beach Central. They were struggling before that game and down 1-0 after four innings, with Broncos’ ace Bobby Poyner throwing a no-hitter. All of a sudden, they rallied for four runs in the bottom of the sixth off Poyner, ended up winning 4-1, and won three district games in a row after that to vault into the No. 3 seed. They haven’t played a lot of games down the stretch, meaning they’re rested and feeling good.
“We’ve hit the ball pretty well all year. It’s going to come down to us playing defense, whether Kyle’s on the mound or not,” Santaluces coach Nick Franco said.
Make no mistake, Smith (7-1, 97 strikeouts in 58.1 innings) is the main attraction, the key to Santaluces’ success, the Worth the Price of Admission guy. He is seemingly unshakable on the mound with major-league stuff. He’s also hit a team-best four homers. Unfortunate news: he gave up an earned run Thursday’s win over Boca Raton, seeing his area-best 0.13 ERA become a meaty 0.24.
“It’s going to come down to another pitcher keeping us in the ballgame,” Franco said.
If Santaluces gets capable pitching behind Smith, keeps hitting, and plays strong defense, they might have to set a whole new goal.