2014 NHSI: Santiago Breaks Out To Lead Coral Springs

CARY, N.C.--It was one of the final games in the loser's bracket of a grueling, weather-compacted three days of games.

But when Coral Springs Christian Academy's Benito Santiago came up against Dalton Ewing of Milton (Ga.) with the bases loaded in the fifth, nobody cared about that.

Benito Santiago

Benito Santiago (Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode)

Santiago, the senior catcher, Tennessee commit and son of the former major leaguer, ripped a two-out, two-strike single to tie the game and Cary Boniske followed one batter later with another two-run hit as Coral Springs ended its National High School Invitational stay with a 6-4 win over Milton on Thursday.

Coral, a talented team with the likes of  Santiago and Vanderbilt commit Touki Toussaint, finished 3-1. Milton split its four games.

After a slow (2-for-9) first three NHSI games, Santiago broke out with the bat Thursday.

In his first at-bat, he ripped a ball to center that tipped the glove of Ewing, who was in center field at the time, and hustled his way to third for a triple. That hit scored Eric Hepple, who had doubled to the base of the left field wall.

Coral Springs coach Matt Cleveland wasn't concerned with Santiago's at-bats, even before that hit.

"He's been swinging the bat good the whole year," Cleveland said. "Sometimes in the game he'll try to subconsciously do a little bit too much, because he's still learning. Last night I pulled him aside ... (and told him) just trust your hands and your swing, because you got such a nice swing. To his credit, he made the adjustment; he doesn't have to do anything extra, that's why he's a big prospect."

Santiago also shined behind the plate, making a one-hand scoop and throw off a dribbler in front of the mound to get Alex Schnell at first and throwing a runner out attempting to steal.

"The defense we never worry about," Cleveland said of Santiago. "That's athletic ability. He could play center field if he wanted to."

As far as his at-bat against Ewing--upon which radar guns came out during an otherwise sleepy game--Santiago said he made no special preparations.

"I didn't have one clue," he said when asked whether he knew of Ewing's high-velocity reputation. "I just come out and compete."

In the at-bat against Santiago, Ewing ranged from 85-87 and Santiago was late on two fastballs, fouling them off.

"He's faced pretty much everybody's No. 1," Cleveland said. "And (Ewing) was throwing hard, and I guess (Santiago) was late on a couple of fastballs, but we talk about winning the "twos" and he left him a curveball and Benny just ripped it. He made a mistake and (Santiago) made him pay."

Not to be forgotten in Coral's success is senior righthander Colin Taylor, a Dominican College commit.

Taylor gave up three runs in the first, but only three more hits as he pitched a complete game for the Crusaders.

Taylor gave up a walk and four hits, including Alex Schnell's two-run single, in the first inning.

But Cleveland stuck with Taylor, saying he liked what he saw.

"He came off after the first inning and he looked a little upset, naturally because he's a competitor," Cleveland said. "I said, 'Hey, when I was growing up, Tom Glavine always struggled in the first inning and then he would shut guys down the rest of the game. All that matters is what's in front of you.'

"After the first inning, he was pretty much money."