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Calvary Christian Captures NHSI Semifinal Berth

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CARY, N.C.—After day one of the 2018 NHSI, only eight teams remained in the tournament's winner’s bracket. On Thursday, Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) became the first team through to the final four, defeating Sandra Day O'Connor (Phoenix) 8-2 in the first quarterfinal game of the afternoon.

The eight runs for Calvary Christian meant fans got to see a lot of their team's makeshift mascot, which happens to be a plump stuffed animal frog the players have decided to bring with them to games.

“It’s like our team mascot," said Calvary Christian starting righthander Roberto Pena. "We got it at the beginning of the season and started doing good with it. All our players kiss it before we go out on the field, so it’s probably really dirty.”

Lucky mascot or not, it was Pena who spearheaded the Calvary Christian win with his work on the mound. The righthander tossed six innings of shutout ball—the first four of which he held his opponent hitless—and added five strikeouts along the way.

Pena's fastball sat in the upper-80s for most of his start, and it flashed solid armside run at times. The senior complimented his fastball with a low-80s changeup that he used down and away to lefthanded hitters, while his out pitch was a 72-74 mph curveball that helped him keep hitters off-balance.

Offensively, Calvary Christian got its offense going in the third inning, when junior Mykanthony Valdez hit a triple off the right field fence, then scampered home a few moments later on a pitch that got away from the Sandra Day O'Connor catcher.

Later in the third, Calvary Christian shortstop Raynel Delgado drove a pitch deep into the right-center field gap, driving in two more runs. Delgado himself would score on a ball in the dirt shortly thereafter.

A 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior, Delgado showed impressive hip turn and barrel control at the plate, and got out of the box well en route to his two-RBI triple. The switch-hitter has pop from both sides of the plate, and flashed excellent range and arm strength at short. 

An RBI triple from Ryan Keenan and an RBI double from Dante Girardi rounded out the Calvary Christian scoring. The son of former MLB manager Joe Girardi, Dante finished the afternoon 3-for-4 and showed impressive hustle throughout the game with his father in attendance.

“He tries to stay away during the games, but at practice he’s definitely helpful," Dante said. "It's good to have him around now. I’ve never really had him around with baseball my whole life, so him coming around now is awesome. I love having him.”

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As a team, Calvary Christian finished the afternoon with six hits, more than once electing to swing away in run-scoring opportunities instead of taking a more small-ball approach that is often times common at the prestigious NHSI.

“At the end of the day we trust out guys," said Calvary Christian head coach Alan Kunkel. "We will play small ball if we absolutely have to, but we realize that most of these high school baseball games are not won by a one run inning every inning."

With the win, Calvary Christian now advances to Friday's semifinals, when they will take on defending NHSI champion Orange (Calif.) Lutheran.

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