Coming off of a 24-5 record, the Killian Cougars have what one player calls a “target on their backs.” The varsity team beat South Dade in the division playoffs before getting knocked off by that same team in the regional semifinals. The Cougars have a strong reputation of excelling on the diamond and this year they plan to keep it that way.
“We’ve got to get better in all phases,” says Head Coach Angel Herrera. “I have to be a better coach, my players have to work harder and we have to execute more. We are looking to improve in every way shape or form.”
Herrera says for the past few years, his team has mastered a strong defense and pitching staff. This year, the boys are stepping up their game in the batters box.
“We’re trying to focus on putting the ball in play,” says Herrera. “If we can just put the pressure on the defense and on the pitcher, consistently put the ball in play and make some things happen, we’ll be able to go a long way and produce some runs.”
The pitching staff includes several returning players who helped the team win big games last season. Senior Ryan Granda was named first team All- County pitcher of the year for the High School Baseball Network squad. The lefty had 66 strikeouts and went 10-0 last year. Other strong arms in the bullpen include Vladimir Nunez, Keith Stevens, Eddy Demurias, and Joey Gonzalez.
The Cougars currently have 11 players committed to play ball in college, seven of them Division 1 schools, including Ryan Granda who signed with Jacksonville University, Keith Stevens with FAMU, Eddy Demurias to the University of Florida, Joey Gonzalez to Stetson, Frank Follaco to Jackson State University in Mississippi and Sebastian Gonzalez to ASA College in North Miami Beach. Juniors Herbert Iser, Eddie Arteaga and Freddie Zamora have already committed to the University of Miami.
Herrera says each player brings something different to the team and helps them win games.
“Our team is not going to fail or succeed off one person,” says Herrera.
“There’s going to be days where Joey Gonzalez is going to carry us and there’s going to be days when Freddie Zamora is going to carry us. Ryan Granda on the mound gives us a chance to win every time he pitches. Eddy Demurias can beat you with his bat, arm or base running. Eddie Arteaga and Herbert Iser can change the game with a swing of the bat. It’s definitely a group effort.”
Herrera is confident that this year’s team is capable of winning a state championship. Gonzalez says one thing that can help them get there is having a different perspective about playing the game.
“We need to change our mindset,” says Gonzalez. “Every team is out to beat us and we can’t take any team lightly. On paper we have a pretty good team and we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We’re in one of the toughest districts in South Florida. We have the defending state champions and South Ridge has a good team and can never be taken lightly. Varela and Palmetto always play us hard and you can never fall asleep on Coral Reef and Sunset.”
The Cougars kick off their regular season against the Westwood Christian Warriors in February. For now, Herrera says that’s what they’re making a priority.
“We’re taking a one-game-at-a-time approach,” he Herrera. “We don’t want to focus on any one team. We want to focus on being the best we can be game in and game out. The first game of the season is the most important one because that’s the next one we’re playing.”