FORT MYERS -- After coming up short in two prior trips to state, American hoped its pitching prowess would make the difference this time around.
On Friday afternoon, it earned the Patriots a chance for redemption.
While it watched its opponent’s pitching staff struggle on the mound, senior Ronnie Williams gave the Patriots 6 1/3 solid innings while his teammates delivered plenty of support in a 7-1 victory over Tallahassee Chiles in a Class 7A state semifinal at JetBlue Park.
The Patriots (25-5), who are making their third appearance at state in the past five seasons, will try to win their first state championship when they play either Tarpon Springs East Lake or Kissimmee Osceola Saturday at 7:35 p.m.
“As a pitcher, I feel more confident when we jump on a team early and we did,” Williams said. “All I had to do was relax and get outs.”
Williams, a Florida A&M signee that could be a high-round draft pick in next month’s MLB draft, allowed only four hits and one run on a balk in the bottom of the second inning, but pitched his way out of a couple of jams never letting the Timberwolves (23-7) string rallies together.
“It’s tough when you face a guy who is 90-95 [mph] and pounds the strike zone,” American coach Ricky Gutierrez said. “We had great confidence going into the game because when he is on the mound our team rises to the occasion and we’re tough to beat.”
Williams’ counterparts weren’t as sharp.
Chiles pitchers Connor Jahn and Harrison Hyatt walked a combined eight batters, with six coming in the first four innings. Jahn and Bowden Francis also hit two batters with pitches the first of which hit Steven Alvarez with the bases loaded in the third to start a four-run inning for American.
Left fielder Matt Ruiz drew a walk on the next at-bat forcing in another run. Right fielder Kris Perez delivered the big blow of the inning with a two-run single to give American a 5-1 lead.
The Patriots added two more runs in the fourth on another RBI single by Ruiz and an RBI single by Kevin Williams after loading the bases again on a walk and another hit batsmen. Ruiz went 2 for 3 with two RBI.
American, which opened as a high school in 1976, has a chance to win its first state title on the same day as fellow Miami-Dade County contender South Dade, which made its prior appearance at state that same year.
Williams threw 92 pitches Friday and might be available out of the bullpen if needed, but pitching depth has helped the Patriots throughout the season.
Gutierrez has senior right-hander Alex Blanco (a Miami-Dade College signee) ready to make the start. And American did not need to use senior closer Andy Figueroa on Friday. Michael Rodriguez, who had suffered a shoulder injury earlier this season, recorded the final two outs.
“We set the goal since we got off the bus in Miami on the ride back from state last year that things would be different next time,” Gutierrez said. “We’ve been thriving on that goal game-by-game this season. It’s motivated these kids the whole season.”
AM 014 200 0 – 7 5 1
CH 010 000 0 – 1 4 1
WP: Ronnie Williams (7-1). LP: Connor Jahn (5-3).
Miami Country Day announced Friday it has hired Lee DeForest as its new boys’ basketball coach. Lee, a graduate of Eastern Kentucky and St. Thomas University School of Law, previously coached at Garrard County High and Christian County High in Kentucky.
Goleman catcher Angie Montalvo signed with Nova Southeastern this week. Montalvo hit .558 with four home runs and 40 RBI this season.