Lions fall in regional final

Posted on 22 May 2014 by LeslieM

Pages 09-16By Gary Curreri

Zion Lutheran first-year coach Ray Ayala said his baseball team exceeded expectations this season.

The Lions (16-10-1) recently completed their season with a hardfought, 10-4 loss in 11- innings against visiting Miami Brito last week.

Miami Brito Miami scored six runs in the top of the 11th inning to snap a 4-4 tie as the Panthers won the Region 4-2A final and denied the Lions their first trip to the state semifinals in school history for the second consecutive season.

Zion Lutheran lost 11-0 to the eventual state champion, Westwood Christian, in the Class 2A regional finals last season. Jose Rodriguez pitched six innings in relief of Lions’ starter Blayne Baker to keep Zion Lutheran in the game. The team rallied from a 4-1 deficit to force extra innings with three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Ivan Ortiz’s RBI single tied the game at 4-4.

We were very fortunate to get it tied,” said first year Lions coach Ray Ayala, who came over from Somerset Academy this season. “We had some opportunities, but we didn’t get it done.”

There were only two players back from last year’s team (Baker and Manny Rojas). Baker finished the season 6-4 on the mound, while Rojas batted .509 for the season and led the team with 35 RBI.

We played in two early season tournaments and went 0-6-1 in them,” Ayala said. “Honestly, if you go back to February, you will see we had a whole bunch of individuals. I put them in over their heads. It took us three months to become a family and we had won nine in a row since then. We had to find a way to have them come together.”

When I first took a look at it, I thought there was something to build there,” Ayala said. “There was nothing there. The cupboard was bare so to speak. I figured two to three years we could build something. As you can see, we moved at a little bit faster pace.”

Ortiz, who was a catcher at Olympic Heights last season, joined the team this season along with shortstop Jose Rodriguez and outfielder Joseph Renovales, who came over from Coral Glades High School.

They all know each other from playing summer ball together,” Ayala said. “We inherited five other kids from other schools.”

Ayala said the slow start showed the team there was work to do.

It made us realize that one through nine we weren’t better than anybody,” Ayala said. “If we played as a team, we could beat anybody. That’s where all of our losses came from and that was the turning point going through those tournaments learning that we could not win individually; we could only win collectively; once we stopped worrying about stats and worrying about who plays, our practices became more geared toward team drills and we were successful as a team and turned the corner.”

Ayala believes the program has a bright future. Ayala said parents who are interested in bringing their sons to the program are already contacting him.

I am already getting calls of interest,” Ayala said. “Parents are getting calls from other parents and telling them they want to switch schools, so that is definitely getting us on the map. We are getting a reputation that we play hard and I am fair to the kids.

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