BRANDON -- Even as Saladino Tournament volunteers prepared to serve Spanish cuisine to dozens of ballplayers from a bygone era Wednesday morning, the baseball gods were arranging proverbial place settings for Emeterio "Pop" Cuesta's big day on Brandon High's field.
In one dugout was Cuesta, the 67-year-old Jefferson coach sitting on career win No. 599. In the other was 69-year-old Gaither coach Frank Permuy, Cuesta's childhood buddy and godfather of his second daughter, Natalie.
Lingering near the Dragons' dugout was Cuesta's wife of 42 years, Sylvia; and a cake on standby, commemorating the milestone triumph. All that remained to catapult Cuesta into ultra-elite company was for his team's bats to replicate his nickname.
On a day seemingly custom-made for Cuesta, they did.
The Dragons (10-3) collected five runs off as many hits in the fourth inning to surge past Gaither, 6-1, in the Saladino quarterfinals on -- fittingly -- Old-Timers' Day. Cuesta joins ex-Jesuit and current Steinbrenner coach John Crumbley as the county's only 600-game winners.
"It was a good win here in the tournament," said Cuesta, whose team managed only five hits in a 1-0 loss to Wharton on Tuesday. "(Tuesday) night was a barn-burner; we had chances, we just couldn't get a hit, everybody was kind of down.
"But today they came out and they played a little better, went opposite field, bunted well, did some things we needed to do to get some runs home, so it was a good team win."
Moments earlier, Cuesta had embraced Sylvia and shaken hands with Permuy, who grew up blocks from Cuesta and was a classmate at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City.
"We used to play sandlot baseball at OLPH, every Saturday morning," said Cuesta, who has led Jefferson to 11 playoff trips in 39-plus years. "For him, we had a special rule: If you hit it on the house over rightfield -- because it was a short porch -- it was a ground-rule double.
"He would wear that tin roof out and that lady (who lived there), we had to get it quick or she would take the balls and wouldn't give them back to us."
Senior Jamaal Melvin's two-run single was the big hit of the fourth, but classmate A.J. Silva added a run-scoring single and scored on Gabriel Selochan's squeeze bunt. Junior right-hander Ryan Jones, meantime, worked 4 2/3 innings, scattering six hits and allowing no earned runs.
Gaither, by contrast, left 11 base runners stranded and hit seven flies or pop-ups.
"I'm glad (Cuesta) got it. It was a good win for him, but we didn't play very well," said Permuy, who should reach the 600 mark within the next two seasons. "We played our worst game we played the whole year. I hate to say that on his 600th, but hey, it's reality."
NEWSOME 4, PLANT 3: In lieu of a new car on his 17th birthday, Newsome junior Dayne Wade drove something else home.
Two of the biggest runs of his career.
Wade's two-out single, on a 1-2 breaking pitch, with two out in the bottom of the seventh scored two runs and propelled the Wolves into today's 4 p.m. semifinal against Jefferson. Plant had taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the inning on Nick Rich's one-out grounder to first that scored Kyle Tucker.
"It definitely feels good," said Wade, who tied the score at 2-all in the bottom of the sixth when he singled and eventually came home on Nick Flanagan's bunt. "It's nice for our team to finally get this (quarterfinals) win and keep moving on in the tournament. We're all excited right now."
Wade's clutch effort allowed senior right-hander Billy Mulcahy's gutsy complete-game performance to stand up. Mulcahy allowed only four hits, striking out two and walking one.