The Miami Heat have “Playoff Jimmy.”
The Doral Academy baseball team has “Playoff Danny.”
Senior first baseman Daniel Restrepo seems to know how to turn things up a notch when it’s postseason time as proved it again on Saturday afternoon by hitting two home runs and driving in eight runs to lead the Firebirds to a 12-1, mercy rule victory over visiting Varela in a Region 4-6A semifinal.
Doral Academy (23-6), which is looking to repeat as state champions in Class 6A, will next host either Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer or West Boca Raton in the regional final on Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m.
The Firebirds advanced to their fifth consecutive regional final in six years (not counting 2020 when the season was canceled due to COVID-19). Doral defeated Varela for the second time in just over a week after winning a much closer 3-2 decision in nine innings in the District 16-6A championship game on May 4.
The games were a reunion of sorts for Doral coach Ralph Suarez and Varela coach Lazer Collazo, who coached together at Gulliver and led the Raiders to their lone state title in 2004.
“Restrepo hits like he did today, it makes a huge difference,” Doral coach Ralph Suarez said. “My hat goes off to (coach Lazer) Collazo and Varela. They’re going to be a team to contend with for the next few years.”
Restrepo’s performance mirrored the clutch games he had at the state final four last season when he combined for seven RBI in two games and hit a clutch three-run homer to help deliver Doral’s first state championship.
“I just know my team needs me and I focus less on myself and on doing more for the team,” said Restrepo, who doubled his home run total for the season on Saturday and now has 30 RBI.
The loss ended a breakthrough season for Varela (17-5-1), which had never won a regional playoff game until this past Wednesday when it beat St. Thomas Aquinas in the quarterfinals.
Trailing 2-0 in the second inning, the Vipers answered with a run, taking advantage of a Doral error.
But then Restrepo belted a two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the third.
As Restrepo arrived at home plate, Doral and Varela players and coaches got into some words, which led to one of the Vipers assistant coaches and two of their players being ejected from the game.
A disturbance in the stands among multiple fans led to an over 20-minute delay before local police restored order and play resumed.
The Firebirds added another run in the inning on back-to-back doubles by Alejandro Ludeiro and Justin Ruiz.
Leading 8-1 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Restrepo sent everyone home with a grand slam to left. Restrepo went 3 for 4 while Sebastian Berrios went 2 for 3 with two RBI.
The incident that delayed the game seemed to deflate Varela’s team as the Vipers were held to only two hits and none after it happened.
“It was deflating and those are things that shouldn’t happen in a high school game,” Collazo said. “Sometimes people take things a little too seriously instead of just letting them play and have a good time.”
Luis Rodriguez started the game for Doral and picked up the win after going four innings and allowing no earned runs on two hits, three walks and two strikeouts. Marcelo Rodriguez walked one during a scoreless inning of relief.
“We’ve been fighting injuries all year long and our pitching is what’s carried us all year,” Suarez said.
Among the Vipers’ firsts this season were qualifying for and reaching the GMAC tournament final and its best record in program history.
With only six seniors on the roster, Collazo figures his team will be right back in the hunt next season.
“Our guys never, never gave up and that’s what it’s all about,” Collazo said. “Doral is the team to beat so we have to get better next year. But, next year, we will return a lot and … watch out.”