Heritage Back On Top Of 5A, Patriots Claim 3rd State Title
With a freshman on the mound and facing a four-run deficit after three innings of play, the American Heritage Patriots’ chances of winning their first state championship since 2012 looked bleak.
But with one swing of the bat, Spencer Butt tied things up in the top of the third, sparking new life in the Heritage dugout. Butt knew off the bat that the ball was gone. He stood in the box and watched it stay fair before chucking the bat toward his dugout and rounding the bases.
“You have to (step up) in those moments,” Butt said. “These are my brothers. I wouldn’t go any other way or have it any other way, and I’d do this a million times.”
After Butt’s grand slam made it 4-4, Jesuit’s pitching staff struggled to find the zone. Starter Wes Mendes came out of the game, and Tigers manager Miguel Menendez turned to freshman right-hander Wilson Andersen to take over. But he also struggled with command.
Andersen walked the bases loaded and then watched the go-ahead run cross the plate on a passed ball. Jesuit would get the run back, but an hour-and-a-half-long rain delay paused the game, giving the Tigers some time to cool down and the Patriots a chance to refuel and rehydrate. Jesuit came up short in the bottom of the seventh, and Butt kicked off the deciding rally in the eighth with a lead-off single through the right side.
“It starts with this guy here,” Macey said of Butt. “He’s meant so much to this program for so long. He’s been here since eighth grade, and to watch his development to get here. I mean, as big as the home run was, let’s be honest, the hit in the eighth inning is the winning run.”
A few batters later, Andrew Ortiz delivered a go-ahead double, and then Zack Wilson delivered the dagger — a single to right that scored both Lucas Ramirez and Ortiz. Antonio Turco-Rivas came in to close yet another tight playoff game, but he never really put the 8-5 victory in doubt.
Meanwhile, Heritage’s freshman, left-hander Spencer Krasner, was once again pitching well beyond his years. Krasner lives for competition, so getting the ball in the state championship gave him more confidence than it did nerves.
“I just thought of it, like always, a regular game,” Krasner said. “I go out there and do my thing, pitch balls to contact. Big outs. That’s it. I just do my thing.”
Krasner pitched into the sixth inning before hitting the FHSAA’s 95-pitch limit and turning the ball over to Turco-Rivas for the final out of the frame. Turco-Rivas stayed fresh through the lightning delay and closed out a third-straight big game for Heritage. Macey has used this duo plenty of times throughout the playoffs, so going to the freshman was never really a concern.
“Between (Krasner) and Talan (Holiday), I know it says freshman and sophomore by grade level, but they pitch well beyond their years,” Macey said. “The composure from both of them to get us to this point. It’s incredible. It’s borderline arrogance, but (Krasner) wants the ball, and we’re going to give it to him.”
As good as Krasner was, Jesuit struck first on a perfect bunt from Jacob Lozano that scored Zane Pestalozzi. Krasner battled back, though, striking out the nine-hole hitter and inducing a foul popout to the catcher from Mendes.
Jesuit threatened again in the third, and Krasner nearly got out of the inning, but he threw the ball away for what should have been out No. 3 at first base. Two runs scored, making it 3-0, and then Pestalozzi doubles into the gap in right-center to make it a four-run game.
Jesuit normally wouldn’t squander a four-run lead, but errors caught up to the reigning state champions.
“Unfortunately, we decided to have one of the worst innings we had all year, or maybe three or four years, defensively,” Menendez said. “To their credit, they took advantage. Spencer Butt is a really good player. He’s going to Florida State, and he put a good swing on a baseball. All the momentum kind of got lost there.”
Still, the Tigers had a chance to win it all at the end, restarting a game in the bottom of the seventh with no outs. The clutch hit never came, though, and Heritage got to Jesuit’s third arm of the day, Derek Westfall, after he came back out to pitch on both sides of the delay.
“We talked about it multiple times, and I probably changed my mind two or three times,” Menendez said on the decision to send him back out. “I told him he deserved a better fate and that’s all on me. I shouldn’t have run him back out there. That’s the one that’s going to eat at me probably for the rest of my life.”
It’s a disappointing end for Jesuit, but it proves that even the best fall short of back-to-back championships. The Tigers are losing over a dozen seniors after graduation, including Mendes and Westfall. Replacing that kind of talent won’t be easy, but Jesuit has been a contender for decades and should reload over the offseason, not to mention the young talent on the team, such as Andersen and Pestalozzi.
For Heritage, a new standard has been set. Known as one of the top programs in South Florida year in and year out, winning a third state title (over Jesuit no less) puts a target on the Patriots’ back statewide, perhaps even nationally. The team wouldn’t have it any other way, though, and it proves that Heritage is still Heritage with Macey at the helm.
“For me, personally, it’s huge,” Macey said. “I was here in ’08 when we won it. I was here in ’09 when we lost it, and I was here in 2012 when we won again as an assistant. It’s a whole different feeling as the guy making the decisions. It’s awesome, but I’m honestly more excited for the guys next to me…
“We’ve had great players come through here — first-round guys, SEC Players of the Year and future first-rounders — that never got to play in this game. That’s what we preach. It’s not about the individual. It’s about the team, and this is the best team we’ve had, because we got to show it.”
With a young core in place, the question heading into next season will be whether or not the team can repeat. Macey says that
“That’s always our goal,” Macey said. “That’s always our expectation. I don’t really care what the outside thinks. But, you hear, you know, ‘Heritage is down this year.’ Okay, we’ll play that to our advantage. I don’t think we’ll shock anybody next year if we do get back, but there are no guarantees in this game.”