Serna’s Blast Sends American Heritage To States
The rivalry between American Heritage and Archbishop McCarthy began long before the current players on either roster attended their respective schools, but the tension was palpable on Tuesday night as the two programs clashed for a chance to reach the state final four.
The Mavericks took an early lead, but the momentum of the game swung in favor of the visiting Patriots in the fifth and sixth innings. Heritage’s starting catcher, Mateo Serna, delivered the biggest blow of the night, a two-run home run that scored shortstop Spencer Butt and put his team out in front. A double later on in the fifth from Zain Diaco scored the fourth and final run of Heritage’s 4-3 regional final win Tuesday night.
“My first at-bat wasn’t really good,” Serna said. “I wasn’t really seeing the ball well. That slider, I knew he was coming with it. He wasn’t doubling up with the fastball, so I missed a couple and he hung the slider. I was looking for something outside, but that slider just caught my barrel.”
There’s no doubt in Serna’s mind that this was the biggest of his 76 career hits, and the win has been a long time coming. It’s been 11 years since Heritage last advanced to the state final, and the Patriots just so happened to win it all that year.
Manager Mike Macey was with the team as an assistant coach back then and knows what it’s like to win a championship. Last year’s club fell one run short of a regional title. Avenging that loss against a bitter rival that fielded its best team in years proves that this often underrated club has what it takes to go the distance.
“I don’t know that anybody outside of these 22 guys expected this,” Macey said. “We were here last year, and we grew from it. We had some losses early in the season that maybe we shouldn’t have lost, and here we are. They found a way to win. That’s just what they’ve done.”
Although there were plenty of offensive heroes throughout the night, this game was a pitcher’s duel for most of the contest. Sophomore Talan Holiday threw 97 pitches throughout six innings of three-run ball (two earned) and struck out five while allowing four hits and no free bases.
“Incredible, incredible,” Macey said when asked about Holiday. “There’s just no words– to watch his development. He was a 79-80 mph guy coming into the season and here he is in the biggest game of his life going six innings. Shutting down a good offense, for the most part. A great job by him. Hats off.”
Antonio Turco-Rivas got the call to close out the game and had a much cleaner outing than the lodged-ball incident that occurred in the semifinals. He almost gave up a leadoff double to right-center, but center fielder Jordan Rich tracked the ball down and made a diving play to get out No. 1 of the inning. Turco-Rivas earned the save with a pair of strikeouts.
“(Rich) is incredible out there,” Macey said. “I mean, you see the ground he covers. Even earlier in the game, their leadoff guy, Lebron, almost hit a triple into right-center and he ran it down with ease. That’s just who he is. He’s a safety on the football team, who can guy sideline-to-sideline, and here he is out on the field gap-to-gap.”
McCarthy’s starter, Connor McShane, might have been the best arm of the night, though. He carried a no-hitter through 4 ⅔ innings but saw it broken on an RBI single from Christopher Gutierrez Levy. Serna’s home run came an inning later and knocked McShane out of the game.
“It’s hard because we have 20 seniors,” Vorachek said. “I mean, four of them were on varsity with me since they were freshmen. My heart breaks for them because I told these boys that they’re in my prayers and I wanted this to end with them having the chance to win a state championship. It didn’t work out that way, but I’m still proud of them. I still love them.”
Third baseman Justin Lebron drove in the first run of the night for the Mavericks with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. Catcher Noah Alburquerque went deep in the fifth to briefly give McCarthy the lead back.
Although there was immense disappointment on McCarthy’s side, Vorachek offered Macey some words of encouragement moving forward in the state tournament. The two coaching staffs know each other well, and the rivalry has evolved from a war on all fronts to an amicable meeting of elite clubs in the same area.
“It’s not about beating McCarthy,” Macey said. “They’re a great team. It’s always been great games, but this was about winning a regional final.”
The road ahead is tough for Heritage. The Patriots will play Columbia in the semifinal round and the winner of Jesuit-Sebring. Jesuit won it all last year and is the top-seeded team in this year’s tournament.
Macey says he wants his team to celebrate the win but also stay focused for the week to come. Heritage won’t play until Monday, and the state championship game would be in over a week.