The Miami Dade College baseball team is aiming to repeat as Southern Conference champions.
Despite the conference title, the Sharks finished 31-20 last year and had a season full of ups and downs. They suffered a spate of injuries in mid-March, leading to offensive struggles, but eventually made a run at the State Tournament, winning two of three games before losing 5-2 to Northwestern Florida State College in the semi-finals.
“We had a really good group of guys who bought into the idea of winning and playing for one another, maybe not as talented as most of the teams we’ve had here before, but we maximized our abilities,” said Sharks head baseball coach Adrian Morales.
Morales, who was tabbed as the Sharks’ head man in August when longtime coach Danny Price stepped down after nine seasons, served as an assistant on the team the past three years.
He brings a championship pedigree to the team. Morales, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals and the Houston Astros, won back-to-back Southern Conference Championships as a player at MDC in 2008 and 2009 and won two Division I National Championships at the University of South Carolina. He played in the Royals minor league system, last playing for the Class A team, the Lexington Legends.
Despite losing several key players to the Major League Baseball draft and graduation, Morales is confident in this year’s squad. The team features 10 returning players and several transfers, including three players from junior college and one from a four-year institution.
Key additions include infielder Erick Orbeta, a transfer from Hillsborough Community College who was named to the First-Team All Suncoast Conference last year; Miguel Alba, a pitcher from the College of Central Florida and outfielder Ian Jenkins from the University of South Carolina.
Two sophomores who are expected to play an integral role are infielder Raphy Almanzar and pitcher Gabriel Figueroa-Hidalgo. Almanzar was named the Florida College System Activities Association Defensive Player of the Year last season and Figueroa-Hidalgo led the team in wins (8) and had a 2.39 ERA.
Morales said this year’s team is filled with a mix of gritty players and prospects with big-league potential. They believe they can surpass last year’s accomplishments.
“I see this year’s team more compact. Everyone is making their contribution to help the team win,” Almanzar said. “Last year, our key was defense and pitching but we lacked opportune batting. These new players are incredibly talented and I believe they will help us get further this season.”
The Sharks’ next game will be on the road versus Northwest Florida State College on Jan. 31 in Clearwater at 3 p.m.