By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
The Cocodrilos de Matanzas won the Cuban Elite League championship under manager Armando Herrer on Tuesday night, beating the Cazadores de Artemisa 12-5 in to take the series in six games at Estadio Victoria de Girón in Matanzas, Cuba.
The Cocodrilos de Matanzas previously won the Serie Nacional championship during the 2019-20 season, when that league operated over the winter.
The Cocodrilos de Matanzas took first place at 25-15 in the second year of the Cuban Elite League this winter. All six teams played 40 games during the 2023-24 winter league season. The top six teams from the 2023 Serie Nacional season qualified to play in the 2023-24 Elite League.
Matanzas finished in sixth place during the 2023 Serie Nacional season with a record of 40-35 to qualify to play in the winter.
The Cazadores de Artemisa made seven fielding errors during their game six loss.
Starting pitcher Renner Rivero, relief pitcher Noelivs Gonzalez, and relief pitcher Frank Medina threw nine innings for Matanzas, facing 33 batters and allowing eight hits, three earned runs, five walks, and striking out four batters.
Cazadores starting pitcher Raymond Figueredo faced nine batters, throwing 1.2 innings and allowing three hits during the game six loss.
The Cazadores de Artemisa got on the board first in the top of the first inning when left fielder Dennis Laza hitting a three-run home run to left field.
In the bottom of the first, the Cocodrilos de Matanzas got three runs when shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena roped the ball to Cazadores de Artemisa third baseman Garcia, who bobbled the baseball and overthrew first baseman Jose Jimenez, allowing Cocodrilos de Matanzas second baseman Yordan Manduley to score.
The next batter, Cocodrilos de Matanzas center fielder Eduardo Blanco, laced a two-run single to left field, scoring first baseman Yordanis Samon and Arrubarrena to tie the game up at 3-3.
In the top of the third inning, Garcia hit a ground ball to center. Cocodrilos center fielder Diaz could not field the ball cleanly as the ball went past him to the center field wall scoring De La Tejera to give Artemisa a 4-3 lead.
Renner Rivero faced 10 batters, throwing 2.1 innings and allowing three hits, three earned runs, three walks, and one strikeout.
A few batters later, Cazadores de Artemisa second baseman Raul Gonzalez lifted a sacrifice fly to center field and Garcia came in to score to extend the lead to 5-3.
During the bottom of the fourth inning, Cocodrilos right fielder Ariel Sanchez doubled to left field and Jose Norona came in to score to cut the lead to 5-4.
Moments later, Cocodrilos de Matanzas designated hitter Alexander Pozo singled to center field to score Sanchez and tie the game.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Samon ripped a solo home run over the left field wall to give the Cocodrilos a 6-5 lead. A few batters later, Norona came up to the plate and drove an RBI single to left field and Blanco came into score to extend the lead 7-5.
The Cocodrilos offense continued to pour it on, putting up five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Sanchez led off the bottom of the sixth with a solo home run to left field.
Frank Medina got Garcia to ground the ball back to the mound and threw over to first base for the final out of the game, as the Cocodrilos de Matanzas won their second championship in club history, beating the Cazadores de Artemisa 12-5.
The Cocodrilos de Matanzas will play in the 2024 Serie de Estrella on January 28 against the Estrellas team from the 2023 Cuban Elite League season at 2 p.m. EST at Estadio Victoria de Girón in Matanzas, Cuba.
The Serie Nacional, which used to be the main winter league in Cuba, will play its third season as a spring/summer league when their season begins on March 9, 2024.
2023-24 Elite League Regular Season Standings
x-clinched playoff berth
x-Cocodrilos de Matanzas (25-15)
x-Cazadores de Artemisa (21-19)
x-Leñadores de Las Tunas (20-20)
x-Industriales de La Habana (20-20)
Gallos de Sancti Spíritus (18-22)
Avispas de Santiago de Cuba (16-24)
2023-24 Elite League Regular Season Notebook: Leñadores de Las Tunas legend infielder Daniel Castro reached the 2,500-hit milestone against the Cocodrilos de Matanzas on Jan. 9. Castro’s 2,500 hits are the most by any Cuban League player that has played in Serie Nacional and the Elite League. Casto, 47, was born in Las Tunas, Cuba, and has played 29 seasons in the Cuban Leagues. Former Cuban national team shortstop Antonio Pacheco is second on the all-time hit list in the Cuban leagues with 2,356.