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American Holds Off South Broward With 5-1 Victory

Ronnie Williams earned the win with five shutout innings.

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Sometimes the truest sign of a great pitcher is his ability to shut down hitters even when he doesn’t have his best stuff working for him. Wednesday afternoon American senior ace Ronnie Williams exemplified this fact, leading his team to victory even though his pitches did not have their usual zip and finesse.

The Patriots backed their ace and provided enough run support to pave the way to a 5-1 victory over South Broward, in a 7A regional quarterfinal played at American High in Hialeah.

The Patriots (22-5) will next travel to face St. Thomas Aquinas in a 7A regional semifinal, after the Raiders beat Reagan 13-0 on the opposite side of the playoff bracket.

With plenty of time to rest and regroup, the Patriots are ready to move forward and play the style of baseball that has taken them this far.

“They know today wasn’t their best and they didn’t come out to play,” admitted American Manager Ricky Gutierrez. “South Broward did a good job of coming out here and playing against us and competing, but we didn’t play our best game today. It was a sloppy game with no energy and no intensity, and maybe it was the layoff from just playing one game this week. I told them we’ve got to get better. Next week we are going to play some teams that are hungry and they are trying to get where we are trying to get, and if we play with this kind of intensity we are in trouble.”

The Bulldogs (10-14) came into the playoff game after shocking district rival Nova in their district tournament, and they again had high hopes to of repeating that feat. With a roster full of seniors and veterans, South Broward was ready to go all-in with house money and go for another big upset.

But Ronnie Williams and the Patriots bullpen had another thing to say about that plan. The right-hander tossed five scoreless innings and worked his way out of a few jams, scattering two hits and three walks and hitting one batter. He recorded a pair of strikeouts on 62 pitches.

“When you know your stuff is not on you have to adjust and pitch to contact and let your defense make plays, and that’s what they did,” said Williams. “We just take it inning by inning and whatever happens, happens.”

Facing an unfamiliar opponent for the first time, the Patriots were not sure what to prepare for.

Jake Norman connects for a singe to drive in the winning runs.

“We had no idea about them, so we just came out and tried to play hard not knowing what to expect,” Williams said. “What was really funny was when they came out in the pregame they did a phantom pregame with no ball, so that really messed us up. But we just came out and tried to play hard through it.”

After avoiding a scoring threat in the top of the first, American staked itself wit all the run support it would ultimately need with its first swings. Edison Cabrera reached on an error, and Eric Gonzalez and Matt Ruiz were both hit by pitches to load the bases. Kris Perez was patient to follow, working a walk to drive in Cabrera and put his team on the scoreboard. Jake Norman followed with the biggest hit of the day, scorching a shot up the middle to drive home a pair for the deciding runs.

American added a pair of unearned runs to add some insurance in the sixth. Jose Chavez reached on an error and Edison Cabrera followed with a single to put runners on the corners. Chavez scored on a wild pitch and, after Kevin Williams singled to move the runner, Cabrera came across the plate on a throwing error.

“We felt like we had the nucleus set and we really felt confident about today. So it was disappointing that some of these guys went out not playing well today,” said Bulldogs Manager Joe Giummule. “That is really the bottom line; we really didn’t play well today. I think we would have felt better about things if we played well and lost. We just didn’t execute and play well today, so that’s the one disappointing thing.”

Just as it has done all season, South Broward gave the ball to team workhorse Kenny Rasor for the big game. The right-hander battled his way through the vaunted Patriots lineup, settling in after the rocky first inning to work his way through five scoreless frames before running into trouble again in the sixth and turning it over to fellow ace Mike Cohick.

“I don’t know if Kenny had his best stuff today, but he sure had it when it mattered,” Giummule said. “He got us out of really tough jams and really pitched his best when it mattered, and we just didn’t help him. Kenny and Mike, we talked about that at the beginning of the year that we were going to go as far as they took us, and they took us here. We really didn’t help them out all year, and again today. I feel bad for Kenny and Mike more than anything, more than I feel bad for myself, because they pitched much better than their records indicate.”

Andy Figueroa struck out the side in the seventh to earn the save.

Rasor also helped account for the team’s lone score of the day. After Brian Luzon singled to lead off the top of the sixth, Cohick was hit by a pitch and Dalton Harbison dropped down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners into scoring position. Rasor then plunked an RBI single into left field to push Luzon across and pull within 3-1. Patriots reliever Alex Blanco bounced back to record a strikeout and an infield groundout to quell the threat.

American then turned the ball over to closer Andy Figueroa, who answered the call by striking out the side in the seventh. The right-hander was ferocious in attacking the batters, needing just 11 pitches to close the game out and earn the save.

“Andy has been my guy since last year, and he is my Mariano Rivera for high school baseball,” said Gutierrez. “He is phenomenal, and that is what we try to do is get to six innings and get him the ball. Once you get him the ball he is very tough to beat because he is a competitor. Pitching has been our strength. Ronnie wasn’t at his best today either and he struggled a little bit with the strike zone. But he still battled and he did what he had to do. I also needed to get Blanco an inning because he hasn’t pitched much. He is another guy who has gotten us here and next week we are going to need him.”

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