Heritage Falls in Naples in the Region 5A-4 Finals
Frustration and disappointment were etched on faces everywhere.
Plantation American Heritage manager Mike Macey addressed his devastated players for the final time of the 2022 season. Three hours earlier no one thought Macey would deliver the speech.
The speech they were anticipating, the one they were hoping for, was going to be when they made their travel plans to head west to Fort Myers to play in the last four at Hammond Stadium.
But the Patriots learned a hard lesson Monday night. A baseball doesn’t care if you have a 26-1 record or have a national No. 2 ranking in Baseball America. You still have to go out there and beat the other nine guys on the other side of the diamond.
The Napoli Golden Eagles also didn’t care about all the hype surrounding this team and quickly came out and stunned Heritage with a 4-2 finish in a 4-5A region final, effectively ending their season in falling short of what they hoped would bring the program its third state title.
Napoli (22-9) advances to the state final for only the second time in program history and the first since 2009, when it won the state title. The Golden Eagles will take on Tampa Jesuit in a Class 4A State Semifinal at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers this Thursday, May 19 at 1 p.m.
“Throughout the year we’ve had the big hit when we needed it and it just didn’t happen tonight,” Macey said. “When they needed a big pitch, they got it. When they needed a big strikeout, they got it. When we needed a big hit, we didn’t. I just think at the end of the day maybe we pushed it a little bit, but I don’t know – I mean these guys have been growing all year and tonight it doesn’t just isn’t produced, that’s baseball for you.
Macey was about to talk about not getting the big shot. What could give him sleepless nights in the coming weeks are the chances the Patriots squandered between the third and sixth innings.
Over those four innings, after being tied in a 1-1 tie after two, Heritage left a total of nine runners on base and seven of them in scoring position. Meanwhile, Heritage starter Erik Blair held on for more than four innings of work giving up a single run, a Johnny King RBI single in the first staking the Golden Eagles to a 1-0 lead and watching his team tie him with one point. in the second on a two-out RBI single from Chris Levy.
He then had to watch as the Patriots had runners on second and third with no outs in the third, only to put out three in a row to end the inning. Heritage then charged with one out in the fourth before Ray Bermudez hit in a 4-6-3 double play late in the frame.
After Napoli then scored three times in the top of the fifth to take a 4-1 lead (all three runs with two outs), the Patriots put the runners up first and second with one out late in the inning. But Lucas Ramirez hit on strikes and then, to illustrate Heritage’s frustration on the night, Zain Diaco hit a line shot right in the middle – which Napoli pitcher Johnny King threw with his glove at the end of the sleeve.
Heritage then staged a two-out rally in the sixth when Spencer Butt walked and Bermudez doubled him in the third. But Blair retired to end the inning. Even until literally their last strike, the Patriots kept fighting.
Pinched hitter Manual Henriquez singled into the field and moved to second on a pitch error at second base. Diaco then brought it home with a right hit, which made it 4-2, bringing the tying run to the plate from pinched hitter Brian Cordero. But King took down Cordero swinging on a 3-2 count, ending the game and prompting a celebration from the Golden Eagles.
The loss marked the eighth straight in regional play for Heritage since it last reached the state’s last four in 2012 when they won the 5A title.
“It’s been a great season and I’m not going to take that away from these kids,” Macey said. “We’ve come back multiple times from seven-race deficits with multiple wins – these kids never give up. They fought to the end in every game and look tonight – nobody, two outs and they kept fighting. It was our season in a nutshell, they never gave up. We also had the best regular season record in program history, with 22 or 23 straight wins, I don’t even know what that was, but it was a school record. They’ve accomplished a lot and I don’t want to take anything away from them.