Westminster Academy baseball secures berth at state, dethrones Miami Christian
It’s a word Westminster Academy coach Ernie Gonzalez has tried to instill in his team for a long time.
The Lions needed it over the past two-plus years, after having their seasons ended by Miami Christian.
They needed it again over the past 36 hours after multiple weather delays on Monday halted their Region 4-2A final matchup against the Victors only to force the game’s suspension until Tuesday afternoon.
And then, even after Miami Christian nearly rallied from a six-run deficit to win, Westminster Academy finally punched its elusive ticket to the state final four following a 9-4 victory over the defending Class 2A state champions.
The Lions (16-9-1) secured their first berth in the state final four since winning back-to-back championships in 1999 and 2000, and will play Orange Park St. Johns Country Day on Thursday in a state semifinal at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
“The perseverance of our team, our program and our community makes me proud to be here,” Gonzalez said. “I wasn’t very fortunate as some individuals are growing up, but my dad taught me perseverance and that’s the message I’ve tried to instill in this team.”
Gonzalez watched his team use patience at the plate to draw two walks with the bases loaded and score after another batter was hit by a pitch to build a 6-0 lead with five runs scored in the second inning on Monday.
After the game was suspended in the fourth inning due to heavy rain and lightning, it resumed Tuesday afternoon.
Miami Christian seemed re-energized, scoring a run in the fourth and then three more in the fifth. But the momentum was halted when senior Jose Alfonso tried to score when a throw to second was bobbled. Alfonso collided with Westminster freshman catcher Isaiah Fernandez and was called out and then ejected for the collision, ending the inning.
The Lions responded quickly in the top of the sixth, loading the bases with no outs. Julian Irizarry, who walked to lead off the inning, scored on a wild pitch and Robert Nedry scored on a balk. Jesus Garcia followed with an RBI single and Westminster was in control from that point on.
Reliever Greg Connors finished off the game, pitching two scoreless frames after entering in the fifth.
“Shout out to my little freshman catcher,” Gonzalez said. “Tough play. Judgment call, but hats off to Miami Christian. We grinded every at-bat one pitch at a time.”