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Westminster Holds Off Trinity To Reach 3A-14 Finals

Nick Gauntner delivered the winning hit in the bottom of the first.

3A-14 Semifinal Photo Gallery

As Weston Clemente put it, it just keeps getting better for Westminster Academy. Behind just enough offense and another marvelous gem from the left-hander on the mound, the Lions won their biggest game in a long time on Wednesday afternoon. Westminster scored all of its runs in the first and Clemente made that lead hold up to lift the Lions past Trinity Christian 3-2 in a 3A-14 district semifinal played at Coral Springs Christian Academy.

The win puts Westminster into the district championship, where it awaits the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between Jupiter Christian and Coral Springs Christian. The victory also puts the club back into the regional playoffs for the first time since 2008. The program has two state championships in its history, but it is the first time the Lions have made it this far in the four years that Manager Nick James has been at the helm.

“I’ve been here four years and I know we’d never sniffed one before,” said James. “It feels great and it’s exciting. You never really plan ahead for long-term goals; you want to play well every game and kind of take it one pitch at a time. But we’re thrilled for the opportunity to be in a district championship game for the first time since I’ve been here, and on the verge of regionals next week. It’s just a great time for Westminster Academy baseball.”

Just as he has been all season long, Clemente was stellar on the mound to lead the way. The left-hander pitched six strong innings and limited the damage against one of the most potent lineups in South Florida. The big southpaw has set the tone for his team all year long, and it was only fitting that he was such a key component to the big win.

“This program has not been to regionals in a while and I’m glad to lead them in,” said Clemente. “It was a nail-biter and I’m glad we got the win. I had my defense behind me and it showed today. That was also the best we’ve hit in about eight games too. It feels great, it really does. We’ve worked hard for this and hard work pays off.”

Although the Warriors (21-5) put runners on in nearly every inning, Clemente was able to work his way through each threat to keep his team in control. The lefty scattered seven hits and two walks, and recorded six strikeouts on 113 pitches. Making things even more challenging was the scorching heat under the hot afternoon sun, with temperatures in the upper eighties and thick humidity adding another tough element to an already challenging experience.

“It was really hot,” Clemente agreed. “Every inning I was drinking a bottle of water and just trying to stay in the shade as much as I can. You are just dumping sweat everywhere. I had a thing wrapped around my arm to keep it warm, but I didn’t really need it because it was so hot.”

Although the southpaw went a bit deeper on his pitch count then at any other point during the year, it was a scenario he had worked towards all year long by pitching deep into many of the Lions’ biggest game along the way. Clemente was still popping the mitt into his sixth and final frame, and he tossed a solid 1-2-3 inning in his final inning of work.

Weston Clemente pitched six strong innings to lead Westminster to the district championship game.

“In a one-and-done scenario we had our backs against the wall with it and we went with Weston, who has been our big-game pitcher all year long,” said James. “Obviously it is an exciting day for us. We’ve got a lot of respect for Trinity and I think they are a fantastic program with a great pedigree. We thought it was going to be a competitive ball game and we thought if we could punch a couple of runs across we would really have a great chance. They had a great arm on the mound and I was proud of our guys for competing because I thought we had the most competitive at bats all year long today.”

The Lions (20-6) jumped on top in the bottom of the first to take control. Josh Viveros walked to lead off the inning, and Jake Dudas and Jeremy Viveros both followed by reaching on bunt singles that caught the Warriors defense out of position to load the bases. Trinity recovered to get a force out at home on a fielder’s choice, but the Lions made some nice base running to crack the scoreboard when Dudas broke for home after first baseman Braxton Stowe chased down a foul pop and was unable to recover in time to make the throw home ahead of the runner.

A catcher’s interference loaded the bases back up, and right fielder Nick Gauntner stepped to the plate ready to make the biggest swing of the day. Gauntner jumped on an 0-1 offering and sent a blooper into left field that fell just out of reach of the diving outfielder, allowing Jeremy Viveros and courtesy runner Ramon Ripoli to race across the plate for a 3-0 advantage.

“I just saw that pitch and I wanted to hit it hard and put it in play and get some runs scored,” Gauntner said. “It feels good. It’s just like any other game and we’re going to play hard through any other game we play and try and get that district championship. I knew we could make it here, so it feels good.”

Trinity buckled down from there, keeping Westminster off the scoreboard the rest of the way even despite the fact that the Lions loaded the bases three more times along the way. Warriors ace Richard Moesker was effective if not overpowering, and battled against a Lions lineup that had very strong approaches against the flame-throwing right-hander.

“You see the score is 3-2, and we lost the game in the first inning. Fundamentals; that’s all it was,” said Warriors Manager Miguel Cuello. “Two bunts where guys were not in position where they needed to be, and that’s the game. After that look at all the zeros on the board. We scored two runs, one in the third and one in the fifth. So realistically, if you eliminate that big inning it’s a different ball game. But they pitched better than us and they were more fundamentally sound than us. Sometimes that’s how you win games.”

Staked with the big lead and a ton of momentum, Clemente settled into a groove quickly to attack the Trinity batters and pitch with a ton of confidence.

“It kind of gives you a different attitude when you go back out there on the mound,” Clemente admitted. “You have a little bit of insurance and you pitch with the lead, you get aggressive and you just throw it at them.”

Warriors’ slugger Byron Murray helped to cut into that deficit in the third. The big-swinging outfielder jumped on an 0-2 pitch and drilled it to the deepest part of the ball park for a solo home run to put Trinity on the scoreboard and give the team some life.

“That was a good hit,” Clemente said, taking a moment after the game to tip his hat at the way Murray got ahold of a well-located pitch to drive it that far. “But you just have to battle back and get on to the next pitch.”

Ramon Ripoli scores the winning run for the Lions.

Both sides continued to battle from there. The Warriors threatened again in the fourth when Shadrach Muelens walked and Xavier Edwards connected for his second hit of the contest, before a flyout ended that threat.

Murray lined a double to the left-center field gap his next trip to the plate in the fifth, and then came home when Edmond Americaan drilled an RBI double to right field to pull the Warriors within a run of tying things up. Two batters later Muelens scorched a grounder up the middle, and Lions second baseman Cory Acton made the biggest defensive play of the day for his team to snare the ball and hold Americaan at third base on the hit. A foul popout ended that threat, and the Warriors were unable to mount any further scoring chances.

Trace Norkus pitched a perfect seventh inning on just eight pitches to earn the save and close out the big victory.

After being forced out of district play for the past three seasons, Trinity made its return to the district tournament this year. While the excitement of that moment gave the team some energy, Coach Cuello felt the lack of experience in games of this magnitude played a big role in the results.

“To them it was just a regular game, but it’s not a regular game,” Cuello said. “Everything gets closed in. You bunt more, there is not a lot of hitting and you get better pitching from both teams. So you are not going to score a lot of runs. You see how Westminster is jumping up and down; we didn’t jump up and down yesterday when we won the game because to them it was just one game. They don’t know about it. If they would have won today, they still would not have been jumping up and down, because they don’t know what it means. This was an important game, and I told them it’s going to be one game you can’t lose and it’s this one, because it takes you to regionals.”

While the ride comes to an end for Trinity, the Lions are excited both for the chance to go after a district title as well as chase after the ultimate goal of making it to the state Final Four.

“We’re excited,” said James. “We’ve just got a fun group to work with and we’ve got great senior leadership. You know, we don’t have the most talented guys, but gosh they work hard and we’ve got great team chemistry. We’ve told them all year long that chemistry wins.”

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