Jason Elias benched Alfredo Escalera for Wednesday’s game against North Port in the semifinal round of the Premier Bracket of the Sarasota Classic.
Escalera returned to the IMG Academy lineup Thursday with a bang.
The senior sent a fastball over the left field wall with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning producing the lone run of the game, as IMG captured a 1-0 victory over Coral Reef in the Premier Bracket championship at Ronald K. Drews Field.
“Alfredo had a lot of pressure on his shoulders coming into this season,” said Elias, IMG’s coach. “He’s going to be the youngest draft-eligible player in the country. He just turned 17 recently. Had the weight of his shoulders throughout the season.”
One of the coaches at the academies predicted Escalera would have a big title game.
“Big is not the word for it,” Elias said of Escalera, who signed with Stetson University. “He really stepped up.”
It was the third game-winning hit of the season for Escalera, a native of Puerto Rico, who finished the game 3-for-3 with a single and double previously.
“A fastball I put a swing on it,” he said after his first home run of the season. “I hit it good and took a little glance.”
Ineligible to compete for the FHSAA state title, IMG won four games in four days to capture their first tournament title. It came from behind to defeat Cape Coral Island Coast in the opener and knocked off Miami Palmetto and North Port before ending Coral Reef’s improbable run to a crown.
“The first game we were losing the last inning and we came back, and then we were pretty much confident we were going to win this,” Escalera said. “This is our championship.”
“Hopefully this is going to be one of them,” Elias said.
Saturday IMG leaves for Arizona to play in the Big League Dugout Classic in Scottsdale, Ariz. A day after it returns, the team will be on the road to Orlando for the Central Florida Spring Break Slam. IMG wraps up its tournament schedule with the National Classic in California
“Hopefully, this propels us to continue to have good things happen,” Elias said.
IMG starter Mack Meyer had a perfect game for 4 2/3 innings, losing it on a wild pitch on a strikeout that would have ended the fifth inning. The senior right-hander allowed two hits in six innings with six strikeouts and no walks.
“Mack Meyer is our championship game starter,” Elias said. “He’s not going to blow you away with velocity, but he keeps you off balance with three different pitches, both sides of the strikezone, up and down. He’s tough. All the credit to Mack for keeping us in that game.”
The Barracudas loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the seventh inning against reliever Sam Proctor, who picked up the win.
Coral Reef came into the tournament with a 2-8 record, before winning three straight against Charlotte, Stuart Martin County and Riverview.
Starting pitcher Christian Grullon threw shutout ball for 5 2/3 innings for the Barracudas.