Every year American Heritage enters the season with the singular goal of reaching the FHSAA finals.
The five-time state champion program, which seeks to defend its title, will face Creekside at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Vero Beach Sports Village in the Class 5A state semifinal.
“If we don’t get to state we feel we’ve underachieved,” coach Marty Cooper said. “We want to at least get there and get a shot to win. Our whole season’s based on preparing for this playoff run. That’s why we schedule the teams we scheduled.”
Of Heritage’s 22 regular-season games, 11 came against opponents who played in last year’s regional finals.
It’s nothing new for the Patriots (23-4), who don’t shy away from the top competition in order to prepare for the state tournament.
After spring break, Heritage lost three games in a row to four-time state champion Palm Beach Gardens, two-time state champion Miami Westminster Christian and three-time defending state champion Miami Gulliver Prep.
“Right before spring break we were all on point,” sophomore pitcher Jenna Goodrich said. “That was definitely when we peaked, and I would say we’ve stayed consistent. After spring break we had a little rough patch, but we came back strong after that.”
Goodrich, who transferred from Archbishop McCarthy, posted a 14-2 record and 0.70 ERA entering the postseason. She has struck out 117 batters, following in the cleats of Aimee Chapdelaine’s departure.
Chapdelaine went on to play at the University of Virginia. During her senior year in 2012, she fanned 198 hitters.
Freshman Madison Canby contributed a 9-2 record and 1.20 ERA with 56 strikeouts. Senior Alyssa Enrique returned from an injury in April to provide additional pitching relief.
“I think with Alyssa back we’re almost unstoppable with our pitching staff,” Goodrich said.
Senior catcher Sarah Angulo, one of five starters from last year’s team, agrees.
“Our pitching this year’s really good,” said Angulo, who has a perfect fielding percentage. “People thought we would be underdogs because Aimee graduated, but Jenna came in and stepped up and Maddie too, and Alyssa’s back better than ever. Behind the plate they just make the job so much easier for me.”
Heritage has outscored its three regional opponents 20-1 with a dynamic combination of pitching and timely hitting.
Of late, freshman outfielder Melissa Rini has stepped up. Cooper said every girl has taken a turn in contributing over the course of the season.
In 2010 and 2011, Heritage fell short of its goal of reaching state. Mother Nature didn’t make things easy for the team last year upon its return.
A rainout forced the Patriots to win a pair of games in one day en route to the title — the program’s first since 2009.
“I was part of the team losing regional finals two years in a row, and it was really tough for us,” Angulo said. “Last year we wanted it even more. This year we’re back and want it even more to defend our title. We’re really excited and look forward to state this year.”