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American Prevails 5-1 Over St. Thomas In 7A Semifinal

Steven Alvarez had two home runs to pace the offense Tuesday.

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The goal for the American Patriots is a simple one that they have had all year, and that is to get themselves back on the bus headed to Fort Myers. Tuesday night the team moved one step closer to that goal, earning a big 5-1 victory over host St. Thomas Aquinas in a 7A regional semifinal played at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.

After reaching the state Final Four a season ago, the Patriots (23-5) have focused all season long on getting back there and taking care of unfinished business. Now the ball club will host Dwyer in a 7A regional championship for the right to gas up the team bus and head back to their ultimate destination.

“Last year Durant was a great team and they beat us, and all of our seniors wanted to get back. I told them we have to take it game by game and step by step, and now we’re one game away,” said American Manager Ricky Gutierrez. “We have to be ready to play Friday. I don’t know what team won yet, but we know whatever Palm Beach team it is will be a good team and they got there for a reason. So we have to battle. Friday is one that is going to be a big, big game and we have to come with the same intensity and play good baseball because we are going to face a real good team.”

The Patriots knew it would be their greatest test of the season coming into a hostile environment to face the Raiders (18-7), a squad that also made it to the state Final Four last year. It was a moment that demanded their very best if they hoped to survive and advance, and that was what they were able to deliver.

“We were stressing it all week preparing for them,” Gutierrez admitted. “At the start of the season we pretty much knew if we wanted to get back to states we would probably have to face them in this setting. They are a great ball club and this is a great step. Today we had to come and play our game. We had to come with the intensity and Ronnie Williams had to throw the game of his life. We had to step up offensively and we did that. We had big key hits, we had three home runs, and that was a big part of the game.”

With the team ace Ronnie Williams locked in on the mound, the club focused on bringing intensity to the plate to back their starter. Patriots catcher Steven “Machete” Alvarez put his team on the board early with a solo home run leading off the top of the second inning, driving an 0-2 pitch to center field for a lead the club would never relinquish. Two frames later the backstop got a hold of a 2-2 offering and again sent it over the fence for the deciding run and a two-run advantage.

After the game “Machete” admitted the first one was the one that excited him the most.

“I think the first one gave a little more life,” said Alvarez. “The first one felt pretty cool and I felt like I was pretty good at the plate, now I could just try to get a couple of base hits. Then the next at bat I saw the next one go over and I thought that OK, now I can really have some fun at the plate today. I’d like to give a little thank you to Ronnie Williams; he did what he had to do on the mound. I did what I had to do at the plate today and got my team some runs and we won a ball game. Now it’s on down the road toward states. We have three more games to go.”

Ronnie Williams got the start and earned the win for the Patriots.

Matt Ruiz extended the lead by drawing a walk and eventually scored on a groundout from Williams in the fourth. After Eric Gonzalez walked with one out in the sixth, third baseman Romy Gonzalez also sent a shot over the fence to account for the Patriots’ final two runs.

It was plenty of run support for Ronnie Williams, who allowed just two base hits and one unearned run on the evening. The right-hander nearly went the distance, recording seven strikeouts while also issuing five walks.

“He was amazing,” Gutierrez said of his ace. “When he was loosening up in the outfield before the game he told me ‘You don’t have to worry about me today, I’ve got you Coach’. When he says that I know I am going to see something special, and you saw it today. He is going to be drafted this June and his abilities are just unbelievable. What he did here today, holding that team to two hits, was amazing.”

As his primary backstop all season, Alvarez has come to expect that sort of performance from Williams. The team has rallied around their star all season long, and when he is on the hill it gives the entire lineup more excitement and confidence to also do their job.

“Being with Ronnie, he is workhorse and he wants to win more than anybody I know,” said Alvarez. “He will do anything for the team just to succeed. Being with him on the mound, he takes his stuff and he takes nothing from anybody and he will come at you with his best. He had that today.”

As big of a victory as it was for the baseball team, Williams admitted afterwards that the win was not just for them.

“Today I was really excited and motivated, because St. Thomas has upset our girls basketball, our boys track and they beat our girls softball team they other day,” Williams explained. “Our principal wanted this win and I wanted to get it for the school. I was really excited.”

The backing Williams got from his players, both with the bats and gloves and also from the enthusiastic cheering of every man on the roster, gave him all the fuel he needed. As important of a role as Williams has on the club, he knows it takes a team to win big games this deep into the playoffs.

“It was very exciting and they shocked me today. They had my back and I love it,” Williams said. “Now let’s just keep it going into the finals. It got me up and it got me excited. But today our motto was that we didn’t want to end our season. We want to keep going and finish through states, and they did that. Our offense came out, ‘Machete’ had two home runs, and that was clutch. I tell them I only need one, and he got it. After that I got more than one and I just kept pitching.”

Matt Ruiz slides safely into third base.

Trailing 5-0 late in the ballgame, the Raiders refused to go down quietly. Sophomore shortstop Gary Mattis reached on an error with two outs in the fifth, and Alex Dickinson was hit by a pitch to also get on base. Both players pulled off a double-steal to get into scoring position, and Mattis came home to break up the shutout on a passed ball.

The Raiders threatened one last time in the bottom of the seventh. Mattis again reached with two outs, as he lined a single into left field. Dickinson drew a walk, which prompted a call to the bullpen for closer Andy Figueroa. Just as he has done all season long, Figueroa answered the bell by recording a strikeout to end the contest.

“We did what we could this year to try and make the other team quit,” St. Thomas Manager Troy Cameron said. “We stole bases and tried to always put pressure on the other team and try and get them to give up. We told them all year that there were going to be times when other teams tried to do the same thing to us, but that there could be no quit in us. I’m proud of them; they fought right to the end and they refused to give in all the way to the last strike.”

American has been to the state finals and knows what that environment is like. Tuesday night the club survived a battle in a tough and hostile setting that is just as comparable to what they can expect should they keep the season going all the way to Fort Myers. The Patriots answered the call against a tough and worthy opponent, and now they look to carry that momentum into their home game against Dwyer on Friday afternoon.

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