Tournaments | Story | 6/13/2021

Close Calls For 5 Star Nothing to Sweat

Sam Warren        
Photo: Kenny Manresa (Perfect Game)
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For over a decade, the 5 Star Outlaws have been a stalwart in the South Florida baseball scene. In the summer of 2021, nothing has changed for the Miami Lakes-based organization. Remaining one of the more successful programs in the region, the Outlaws pride themselves on winning close baseball games, and the 5 Star Outlaws 2023 showcased that at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers on Saturday.
On the first day of the 2021 16u Perfect Game Florida Select Championship, the Outlaws secured two victories that both went down to the wire. In their first matchup, first baseman Justin Breitenstein shot a single into shallow right field that scored Christopher Carroll and Noah Alburquerque in the bottom of the fifth, giving the Outlaws a walk-off win over Prospects Showcase Team 2023. In their second, Devin Catoni came on in the sixth to shut down Knights Knation Florida 2023 for two innings as the Outlaws took home another one-run victory. Outlaws Head Coach Alex Catoni said that gritty wins are now second nature for the 2023 squad.
“The team never quits,” Alex said. “That’s always been our motto. We don’t give up until the last out.”
The Outlaw perseverance has paid dividends for the team so far in 2020-2021, accumulating a 15-4 Perfect Game record since September and beginning this summer season 5-1. While the Outlaws’ roster features some of the top talents in South Florida, Catoni believes that camaraderie is a driving force in the team’s success.
“What leads to success is the chemistry of this team,” Catoni said. “They gel together, they glue, and that helps them fight to the end.”
While the Outlaws are no stranger to adversity, the team faced a more formidable challenge than usual on Saturday. David Davila (Florida State commit), Gian De Castro, Antonio Jimenez and Keanu Rodriguez (Miami commits) were just some of the Outlaw standouts missing from the roster on Saturday, as many of them are participating in the 2021 Perfect Game Jr. National Showcase. However, the Outlaws rose to the challenge and didn’t back down, which Catoni believes speaks significantly to his team’s character.
“It’s a struggle when you don’t have those big guys here,” Catoni said. “But we have guys that can pick up the pieces and keep battling. When these guys are not there, we have guys that can step up and take those roles.”
Throughout the day, many Outlaw players filled those roles when they needed it most. In their first matchup, the Outlaws quickly fell behind after Prospects Showcase Team 2023 plated three runs in the top of the first. From there, the Outlaw bats began to chip away. In the bottom of the first, the Outlaws got on the board with a Damian Hernandez RBI double.  Andy Hernandez then evened the game in the second with a bases-loaded two-RBI single, scoring Catoni and Jeymel Estrada. Prospects retook the lead in the third on another RBI single, and then both offenses went stagnant.
As time was running out for the game, the umpires announced that the fifth inning would be the last, giving the Outlaws a shortened opportunity to overcome the deficit. However, the Outlaw bats did not waste their last chance. Andy Hernandez led off the inning with a walk, but the Outlaws quickly found themselves on their final out after a fielder’s choice and a failed steal attempt. Carroll and Alburquerque then gave the Outlaws life as they hit back-to-back singles. After a passed ball, Breitenstein found himself a chance to win the game with runners on second and third. He didn’t squander the opportunity, lining a single to right field to score both runners and secure a 5-4 victory for the Outlaws. Despite the implications, Breitenstein said he didn’t let the moment get too big for him and kept his approach simple. 
“I saw a big gap between first and second and knew that’s where I wanted to put the ball,” Breitenstein said. “I didn’t try to do too much with it, and it worked out in the end.”
The Outlaws then carried their high emotions into their second bout, using them to create an offensive outburst in the bottom of the first. After two hit-by-pitches and an Andres Cruz single, Manuel Henriquez drove home two runs with a fielder’s choice. Andy Hernandez then drew a walk and scored from first on a Catoni two-RBI double, giving the Outlaws a 4-0 lead. The Outlaws bats quieted in the second, but Damien Hernandez was able to make the lead five as he drove home Alburquerque with another RBI double. 
Kenny Manresa was dominant on the mound for the Outlaws, tossing 2 2/3 innings of shutout ball while striking out four. However, the Knights’ bats woke up in the fourth, plating four runs of their own in the inning. Catoni then snuffed out the Knight’s hope, striking out two over two innings and not allowing a single baserunner, securing the win for the Outlaws. Breitenstein believes that the team’s attitude was a significant factor in pulling out the close victories on Saturday.
“We’re just fighters,” Breitenstein said. “We stay in the game. Even if we get down at some points, we’re able to keep ourselves in it and push to keep working hard.”
After delivering two tight victories on their first day, the Outlaws will look to continue their success throughout Championship pool and bracket play. While the game may be over, Catoni believes Breitenstein’s clutch performance will remain a factor throughout the tournament.
“That walk-off probably sets the tone for the rest of the tournament,” Catoni said. “That’s a big comeback right there. Coming up with that big hit, that’s something special that sets a tone and hopefully puts us deep into the playoffs.”
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