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Tough 7th For #4 Heritage Leads To Loss Against Dwyer

Kyle Rostock (4) was outstanding in two innings of relief for American Heritage before leaving the game in the seventh inning after suffering an injury.

The Dwyer Panthers travel to American Heritage Plantation each year to face the Patriots, but something always seems to get in the way of a major road victory for the club from up north. At least, that was the story until Thursday night’s matchup between the two teams played out. A pitching duel that seemed destined for extra innings descended into chaos in the seventh, and the Panthers left the Patriots’ field victorious for the first time in at least a decade, 10-5.

Emotions ran high in this game until the very end. Both teams have proven themselves as perennial regional threats over the past few years, and this is as close to simulating a playoff game as you’ll get at the high school level, especially being the third game of the week for Heritage. For Panthers manager Alex Morales, coming away with this victory checks a box he’s been looking to fill since he took over the program.

“It’s a big win for us,” Morales said before pausing to take in the moment. “You, know this is a beautiful place. A lot of places, you go there and then they come to you, but every year I come back here because it’s such a beautiful place. But for the last three, four or five years, I’ve never beat them. That’s why I showed a lot of emotion because I finally got one in this place. For us to get a win in this place against that team, it means a lot to us. And, I’m just really excited about it.”

The game lasted a full seven innings, but it was the final frame that coaches, players and fans are likely to remember most. Lucas Herbst stepped into the box to lead off the inning for Dwyer and hit an innocent pop-up toward the left side of the infield. The lights blinded Heritage’s third baseman, rendering him unable to make a play on the ball and it fell harmlessly onto the infield grass for a single. But, Herbst was rounding first, and Heritage’s shortstop had a play to catch him first.

He delivered a rocket across the diamond, but, unfortunately, the ball caught pitcher Kyle Rostock on the side of the head and ricocheted into right field. For a brief moment, all eyes were on Rostock, as the stadium collectively tried to process the events that just occurred. Then, the attention shifted back to Herbst who was off and running to third on what was still a live ball.

Eventually, the ball made it back to the infield, and time was called. Rostock got checked out by the athletic trainers on hand and left the game. Patriots manager Mike Macey provided an update on Rostock after the game, stating that he “has a lump on his head and will probably be out for a couple of weeks.” Rostock is a major part of Heritage’s rotation, who just came back from an illness, so this is as untimely of a loss as a team can get hit with.

“You saw the way he threw,” Macey said. “If he doesn’t get hit in the head, this game probably isn’t 10-5. That’s for sure.”

Jordan Rich (7) scores the first run of the evening for American Heritage in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Macey agreed that Rostock’s injury seemed to be a turning point in the game. Heritage was forced to turn to some younger arms, and Herbst scored almost immediately on a wild pitch.

“Before the inning, my coach was talking to me about getting good reads on passed balls and balls that are put in play,” Herbst said. “So, I saw it go down and the catcher scrambles for it, so I just took off. Not really a thought. Just instinct.”

A walk and two singles loaded the bases up for Kris Blanks, and the senior first baseman delivered a bases-clearing triple that put his club up by four. Blanks said that he’s hit big homers in the past but watching the bases clear in a moment like that was right up there with the top moments of his high-school career.

“As soon as I got up there, I noticed I had the bases loaded,” Blanks said. “I had the boys behind me, and I was waiting for a pitch kind of down and in — something that I could drive. It got to 3-1, I think, and then I finally saw the pitch I wanted and smoked it over first base for a triple.”

By the middle of the seventh, Dwyer had worked the lead up to eight runs and was three outs away from a 10-2 victory, erasing a strong four-inning, eight-strikeout performance from Heritage starter Antonio Turco-Rivas. Catcher Corey Goldstick led the team with three hits.

Heritage wasn’t going away quietly, though. The Patriots tacked on three runs in the bottom of the seventh and were just a few batters away from getting the tying run up to the plate. Spencer Butt, Andrew Ortiz and Zack Wilson all drove in runs, but it wasn’t enough in the end.

The Patriots were held without a baserunner through the first three innings of the game by starter Nick Rovitti, who is a year removed from UCL repair and touching 91-92 mph. He lost the perfect game in the fourth on an infield hit to Jordan Rich, who eventually scored, but Rovitti kept this game tight into the fifth inning. He left the game with seven strikeouts and just two runs (one earned) allowed on two hits and a walk. Dawson Thrush took over on the mound for the final 2 2/3 innings of the night for Dwyer.

“We didn’t have (an approach) the first time through,” Macey said of his team’s offense. “We weren’t ready to hit the fastball. The second time through was a little better. We got to their reliever a little bit, but we just didn’t have good approaches tonight.”

Antonio Turco-Rivas (18) got the start for American Heritage on Thursday, earning a no-decision through four innings.

Rovitti’s efforts can’t go understated. Thrush closed it out, but there’s no telling what kind of game this might have been if Dwyer had to go to another arm, just as Heritage did.

“I was just trying to locate my command,” Rovitti said of his approach to the outing. “Just trying to stay in the game as long as possible. Avoiding deep counts and just letting my team have a chance to win.”

The offense eventually came through for Rovitti and the Panthers, and now Dwyer has another signature win to add to its résumé. Morales is hoping that the way his team playing lately is an indication that the group can make another run at a deep playoff run. In 2022, Dwyer came up short in the regional final to eventual 6A state champion Doral Academy, but this team looks capable of making a Final Four run.

“In the beginning, we struggled a little bit,” Morales said. “I mean, we’re winning games. We have a good record. But, we gave away a couple. A couple that we should have tightened up and won. But we’re playing pretty good. Those games we gave away in the beginning — right now, we’re not doing that. Right now, we’re playing as a team, guys are getting clutch hits and we’re just playing really well right now.”

As for Heritage, losing one inning at the end of a tough week is hardly the end of the world. Macey leads a program that expects to be in the regional conversation year in and year out. That won’t change after one loss to Dwyer, and simulating playoff losses is exactly what this chunk of the schedule is all about. Heritage has two more tough games coming up, and it expects to compete in both.

“I think we’re good,” Macey said. “I don’t worry too much. West Boca has a solid arm, and McCarthy is McCarthy. But, hey, we just have to keep coming and playing. At this point, I don’t worry about wins and losses. It’s about how we compete and getting ready for the playoffs. It’s good to see the quality arms we’re seeing this week and next week. Hey, that’s why you come to Heritage.”

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