No. 2 Archbishop McCarthy Mavericks (Southwest Ranches, Fla.)
State Association/League: Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Class 5A/District 16
Head Coach: Rich Bielski (6th season as head coach)
2013 Results: 26-5 overall record; FHSAA Class 6A District 15 Champion; FHSAA Class 6A State Champion
Key Losses: C Michael Hernandez (Nova Southeastern University); 3B Jonathan Quintana
Top Returning Players: Sr. LHP/1B Brian Gonzalez (Miami); Sr. RHP/1B Andres Nunez (Florida International); Sr. LHP/OF Aaron Soto (Tennessee); Sr. SS Eddie Silva (Florida International); Sr. LHP/OF Michael Gigliotti (Lipscomb)
Notable Matchups: Feb. 18 vs. Coral Gables at Marlins Stadium, Miami; March 7 vs. American Heritage; March 21 at American Heritage; April 4 vs. Monsignor Pace
AN EARLY 20TH CENTURY POET AND PHILOSOPHER ONCE WROTE this passage: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Archbishop McCarthy High School head baseball coach Rich Bielski is entering the 2014 Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) spring baseball season with the hope truer words have never been penned or spoken.
Archbishop McCarthy is a Roman Catholic private school located in Southwest Ranches, Fla., on the eastern edge of the Everglades in Broward County, about 15 miles southwest of Fort Lauderdale. The school, which is only 16 years old, made history last season when it won its fourth straight FHSAA state baseball championship, the first time that had been done.
Today, Archbishop McCarthy debuts in the No. 2 position in the 2014 Perfect Game Preseason National High School Rankings with its sights not only on a record-setting fifth straight Florida state championship but also on a possible Perfect Game National Championship.
It will be a challenge, to be sure, but one Bielski feels his senior-laden team is ready to take on. And in this case, just like the passage shared above, Bielski wants his team to forget about the past in the hope that history will once again repeat itself – for a fifth straight time.
“This year our focus has really been on being unselfish,” Bielski told PG during a recent telephone conversation. “We know we’re very talented and we know that everybody is going to be gunning for us and they can’t wait to see this (championship) streak end.
“We’re going after it like we’ve never won even one (state title),” he continued. “The reoccurring theme throughout every year is to go after it like you’ve never won even one state championship because every year there are kids on this team who haven’t won a state championship and who don’t have a state championship ring.”
The first two of the four state titles the Mavericks won came in FHSAA Class 4A with back-to-back championship game wins over Tampa Jesuit in 2009 and 2010. The last two were captured in Class 6A with championship game victories over Pensacola Pace in 2012 and Lynn Haven Mosley last year. Archbishop McCarthy will play in Class 5A this season.
The Mavericks finished 26-5 in 2013, following championship seasons of 25-5-1 (2012), 31-3 (2011) and 27-5 (2010) for a four year record of 109-18-1. Classifications may change but the goal – and the always present pressure – remains the same.
“It’s really been business as usual; we’ve been through this before,” Bielski said of the preseason expectations. “Last year especially, because four had never been done before and three had been done only one other time … but four had never been done in any classification, so that was the talk of the town, being able to chase history and set history.”
Roughly a dozen players on this team that already possess a state championship ring, a few that have two and one – standout left-hander and first baseman Brian Gonzalez –who has three.
The Mavericks graduated only two starters from last year’s team: catcher Michael Hernandez and third baseman Jonathan Quintana. Hernandez holds the distinction of being the only Florida prep to be on the varsity roster of four state championship teams. Thirteen seniors fill spots on this year’s Mavericks roster, along with five juniors and two freshmen (no sophomores).
Gonzalez (6-foot-3, 235-pounds) is at the top of the crowded senior leader board. Ranked by Perfect Game as the No. 174 national prospect in the class of 2014, the left-handed Gonzalez used a fastball that has reached 91 mph at PG events to post an 11-0 record and 1.04 ERA his junior season while hitting .369 with four home runs and eight doubles. He also carries a 3.5 GPA and has signed with the University of Miami.
Right-hander Andres Nunez, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior ranked in the top-500 in his class, also flashes a 90 mph fastball and finished 7-2 with a 1.64 ERA in 2013 – he sports a 3.57 GPA and is a Florida International recruit. Senior lefty Aaron Soto (5-10, 170), a Tennessee recruit, was 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA while hitting .352 with four home runs.
Six-foot-one, 190-pound senior shortstop Eddie Silva, another Florida International signee, also returns, as does senior outfielder/left-handed pitcher Michael Gigliotti, a Lipscomb recruit. Second baseman Blade Bielski and third baseman Alex Rodriguez, both seniors, are clawing back from injuries and surgeries but both hope to contribute.
“I feel very good about our team this year; I feel we’re going to be very strong again,” Coach Bielski said. “I also believe that a lot of the most talented teams are going to be in 5A this year. … I’ve told our team that although we have a lot returning seniors and that although we’re going to be strong … this may be our biggest challenge ever just because of the other talented teams that are in 5A this year. We’re looking forward to the challenge but we definitely need to keep improving and getting better.”
The foundation for the program’s success was firmly laid about seven years ago with a huge assist from Alex Fernandez, a south Florida native who was a first-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in the 1990 MLB amateur draft out of the University of Miami.
Fernandez, a right-handed pitcher, won 107 games in an 11-year major league career – seven with the White Sox and three with the Florida Marlins – before retiring in 2000 at the age of 30. He is now Archbishop McCarthy’s director of baseball operations.
“He came in and just instantly changed everything,” Bielski said. “He changed the attitude, he changed the focus, changed the expectations, and he really built this program into what it has become today. He brought in the best coaches he could find and he demanded excellence in the classroom and on the field, and the dedication and the competitiveness that this man has just transcends to everybody else.”
Bielski also praised the contributions of associate head coach Nelson Santovenia, pitching coach Ric Butner – who Bielski calls a “pitching scientist” – and assistant coach Cookie Abay.
“Everybody does their job and their part and we each bring an expertise to the program,” Bielski said. “Because of this, it’s like a well-oiled machine that has got on this roll of playing great baseball and getting hot at the right time, and being blessed with not just talented players but good people and good kids.”
Over the past two years, many of the Mavericks’ current top seniors became aligned with Richie Palmer and his travel ball organization, the South Florida Elite Squad – the Elite Squad’s top teams have long been a force on the Perfect Game summer tournament circuit.
Gonzalez and Soto were young members of the South Florida Elite Squad that won the 2012 17u Perfect Game World Series in Goodyear, Ariz., and Nunez and Silva joined them on the Elite Squad team that played in the 2013 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October.
“The (players) that seem to get the most out of their summers and get the most college looks are the ones with the South Florida Elite,” Bielski said. “(Palmer) has become a fan of our program and he comes out and watches a lot of our games, and we’ve become a fan of his summer program, as well. … We tend to gravitate toward good people and we’ve found (Palmer) to be very sincere and honest and very straight-forward with our guys. It’s been a great relationship.”
The Archbishop McCarthy Mavericks made history in 2013 with a fourth straight FHSAA state championship. More history could be made this season, but Bielski doesn’t want his young players thinking about it too much – he simply wants them to enjoy it.
“I think they have a grasp of how special this time is in our program’s history,” he said. “We really try to emphasize that and explain that to them … that years down the road you guys are going to be old men and you’re going to be talking about this time – these are the good old days; we’re living in the good old days right now that we’re all going to be reminiscing about the rest of our lives.
“This is just a very, very special time and let’s enjoy the good old days while they’re here right now.”