All Or Nothing For The American Patriots In 2014
The American Patriots are fresh off an impressive 2013 campaign which saw them finish with a 21-9 record and a trip to the Class 8A state semis.
Although the Patriots fell short, they return a myriad of talent at multiple positions. They were the only public school team out of Miami-Dade county to make it to the state playoffs in Fort Myers last season.
“It was a great run we fell short and a ran into a great guy, great pitcher up there. But they’re hungry, you can tell by the way we are playing in the fall. They got up there and lost but they want to get back up there and try and win their first championship in baseball for American High,” said fifth-year manager and former major leaguer Ricky Gutierrez.
American ended up losing 6-0 to Plant City-Durant and pitcher Tyler Danish, a second round pick by the Chicago White Sox in the 2013 MLB draft.
With the 2014 season fast approaching, the Patriots graduated seven seniors including star first baseman and 2013 HSBN Miami-Dade Hitter of the Year Kendrick Gutierrez (.500 B.A., 29 RBI, three home runs) who signed on to play baseball at Palm Beach State College. The elder Gutierrez admits it will be tough fill the void left by his son and team leader.
“It’s tough. I kind of even miss him this year,” said Gutierrez. “This is my first year coaching high school without him being on the team. He was a leader and he led by example on and off the field and that’s a big void on the ballclub that somebody is going to have to fill.”
Even without Kendrick the team still returns one of most explosive lineups in Miami-Dade County.
American returns nine players who recorded at least 17 at-bats last season. They include HSBN All-Miami-Dade County second baseman senior Eric Gonzalez (.405 B.A., two HRs), junior third baseman and University of Miami commit Romy Gonzalez (.411, 21 RBI), shortstop Edison Cabrera (.442, seven RBI), and outfielder Kevin Williams (.442, 11 RBI).
In addition, the team picked up a key transfer in infielder Jake Norman from Dr. Krop. The senior hit .351 with 19 RBI at the plate and racked up 45 strikeouts on the mound for the Lightning.
“We have a lot of guys that produced last year and we’re even more experienced,” said Eric Gonzalez. “We’re a year older, we’re more calm, we’re more relaxed and we know what to expect.”
The pitching staff returns a number of hurlers, led by starters Ronnie Williams and Andy Figueroa. Williams battled through an early-season injury to his pitching arm to finish with 30 strikeouts and four wins on the mound to go along with a .394 batting average and 12 RBIs at the plate. Figueroa went 4-0 with 29 strikeouts and an ERA around 2.31.
The Patriots added a few new faces to bolster their pitching staff as well. New pitching coach Chris Roque comes over from Monsignor Pace, last season’s state runner-up in Class 4A. The team also received a big time transfer from Hialeah High’s Michael Rodriguez, an FIU commit. Paired with Williams the Patriots have two pitchers who can consistently pitch in the high 80s.
“Now it’s different since we have two pitchers who can throw high 80s and low 90s,” Figueroa said. “The kid from Hialeah is a big pickup for us, so I think on the mound we’ll show something this year.”
Williams and his teammates have the used the state loss as motivation to work harder in the offseason.
“I’m determined to get after it this year because that state game hurt and I don’t want that to happen again, I want us to come home with a ring this year,” Williams said.
With the mix of new arms in the staff, the Patriots have a deeper rotation of pitchers to carry them through the season.
“This year with a couple of additions, I think the expectations are getting to states and winning it,” Roque said. “I wouldn’t settle for anything less.”
The road to that elusive state title will look a lot different this season. Due to the FHSAA district realignment, American has moved down to the new district 7A-16 to compete against Hialeah-Miami Lakes, Miami Central, North Miami Beach, Doral-Ronald Reagan and Westland Hialeah. Miami Central did not play in a district last season and the four other teams had a combined record of 26-43 last season. American’s district schedule doesn’t look tough on paper but they aren’t taking any teams lightly.
“We just have to come out aggressive and play every game like it’s the state semifinals,” said Eric Gonzalez. “If we come out slacking we can lose. We’re a beatable team just as any other high school team is.”
With the sting of losing in states last season serving as motivation, the talented Patriots are going to be one of the favorites to raise a state title this season.
“They’ve been there, done that and seen what it was about. They know how down they were when we lost,” said Gutierrez. “So this year I think coming into it, it makes them a lot hungrier and not wanting to have that feeling again.”