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American Heritage Falls 5-2 To Jesuit In 5A State Final

The Patriots finish as the #2 team in all of Class 5A in 2024.

It always gets tougher to come up short the closer you get.

In a rematch of last season’s title game, it was the Jesuit Tigers who prevailed in Saturday’s 5A championship with a 5-2 win over the defending-champion American Heritage Patriots, at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. The Tigers earned their seventh state championship, while avenging the loss to the Patriots in the same contest a season ago.

“It was a tough game,” Heritage Manager Bruce Aven said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. We were able to get guys on base in four or five of the innings, but we didn’t get the big hit in the right moment. They got on us early, and they did a good job of executing. They did situational baseball, they got the fly balls, they got some guys over, they moved up on balls put in play and they did a good job. We just didn’t have enough ammo and we couldn’t get that big hit when it was time to get the big hit.”

Jesuit (26-6) clicked right away, scoring all its runs in the first three innings to take a 5-0 advantage. But the things threatening to get away from them, the Patriots showed their mettle to hold the line and stay in the fight. They held the Tigers scoreless over the final four innings, as starter Talan Holiday dug in and competed with his best stuff when it was needed the most.

“I’m proud of this guy battling in that heat today,” Coach Aven said of his starter. “I never saw an excuse, never saw any gestures or bad body language. He just kept pounding the zone and he kept working. Talan did a good job, threw 105 pitches and kept them at bay. We just couldn’t get over that hump today. That’s the way baseball goes.”

The Patriots (21-11) continued to battle until the end, chipping away for a couple of runs late to keep them in the contest. Christopher Levy led off the top of the fifth with a single past first, advanced to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a ground out from R.J. Machado. Lucas Ramirez then got his team on the scoreboard with an RBI double on a drive deep to the center field wall.

Heritage kept adding pressure to threaten further damage. Sebastian Garavito walked and Andrew Ortiz was hit by a pitch to put two base runners on, prompting a call to the bullpen for Wilson Anderson to relieve starter McCall Biemiller. Anderson was up to task, recording two straight outs to end the threat.

“We did manufacture some hits and we did do some stuff. We put ourselves in position to actually make a comeback,” Aven said. “Just because we want the good hit doesn’t mean we get it. They had a very good defense and their pitchers did a good job of mixing up their pitches. You had to be aggressive at the plate today, and I think at times today we were too selective. You have to get that pitch early. I feel bad for our kids, because they battled. But that’s the game. We’ve done this all year, and we’ve won some like that and lost some like that.”

Anderson went the rest of the way for the Tigers. He ran into trouble again in the seventh, but his defense had his back. Ramirez led off with another double, and then Garavito followed with a liner to shallow center. But center fielder D.J. Pirela came charging in, laid out and snared the catch.

Ramirez did eventually score. He advanced to third on a ground out from Andrew Ortiz, and Rafael Furcal sent him home with an RBI single. But it was too little, too late, as the next batter flew out to center to end the contest.

“I’m proud of what we did,” Coach Aven said. “I would have loved to win the game and finish up, and last year at this time it was the opposite. They had to sit there and watch us celebrate, and this year we had to watch them celebrate. We’ll have something that will motivate us to get back here next year and try to get that ultimate championship.”

While it is pretty rare for the same two teams to meet in two straight finals, it does help to create a rivalry between them. The two programs have a total of ten state championships combined, and the realistic goal they set for themselves every season is to get back there and win another. So it is not a far-fetched idea that they could find themselves back facing each other again, which would essentially serve as the rubber match after they split the last two championship meetings.

“We’ve got to get back to playing the game, and loving the game and competing. I love the fact that Jesuit wanted to knock Heritage off, because we need to do the same thing,” Aven said. “We need to get that rivalry and get back to that point where we are competing as baseball players, where you enjoy playing the game. I don’t have anything against that team. That team today was outstanding, and I saw some great things today. But I’m also always going to bet on my team. Now what do we need next year to come back and beat them?”

Those sort of rivalries used to be more prevalent, and a return to that sort of dynamic would be very welcomed. These two programs have shed each other’s blood on the battle field, and have earned each other’s respect, and embracing rivalries like that only help make the games and the outcomes more exciting.

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