FORT MYERS -- American baseball players left JetBlue Park Saturday night to the sounds of bullhorns and the hooting and hollering of their fans.
And the festive atmosphere continued long after Andy Figueroa threw his final pitch that was popped up and landed in Eric Gonzalez’s glove to seal the Patriots’ first-ever state championship with a 5-2 victory over Tarpon Springs East Lake in the Class 7A final.
“This is awesome because we set this goal from the moment we lost last year,” American coach Ricky Gutierrez said. “They’ve been focused all season and you know you’d have your ups and downs. We stayed even keel and played our kind of baseball.”
American (26-5) completed a year-long journey of redemption after coming up short two previous times since 2010 including a loss in last year’s Class 8A semifinals.
This time, the Patriots were ready to make school history with arguably its deepest roster ever that included timely hitters, dominant pitching and speedy base runners.
“This probably won’t hit me for a few weeks,” American senior center fielder Kevin Williams said. “We knew we had to come in with a lot of energy from the first at-bat to win this.”
American joined South Dade, which won the Class 8A state championship earlier in the day, as the first Miami-Dade County public schools to win state titles since Hialeah won the second of back-to-back championships in 2002.
“This is awesome to bring the state title back home,” American junior third baseman Romy Gonzalez said.
A day after senior Ronnie Williams delivered a dominant pitching performance, senior Alex Blanco was stellar for five scoreless innings.
Blanco struck out six, but ran into some trouble in the top of the sixth giving up a couple of runs.
But as it had throughout the season, American called upon senior closer Andy Figueroa to seal the deal.
Figueroa, whom Gutierrez and teammates often referred to as their “Mariano Rivera” threw one pitch in the inning and got East Lake catcher Nick DeSantis to pop up with a runner at third to end the threat.
Figueroa ran into a little trouble in the seventh as well walking the first batter of the inning. Figueroa bounced back with a strikeout. He then allowed a single to center field putting runners on first and second. Figueroa showed the composure he had throughout the season striking out Christian James and getting Andrew Prozzillo to pop up to end the game.
Figueroa picked up his eighth save of the season and recorded the final out in four of American’s five state tournament victories.
“It was the state finals so I got a little nervous I got to admit,” Figueroa said. “I was confident in myself and my teammates calmed me down a little bit. Once I saw the pop fly it was the best feeling ever.”
After not mustering a hit through the first three innings, the Patriots broke the drought in the fourth leading to a 4-0 lead.
Romy Gonzalez started the offensive surge by lining a double down the left field line to score Eric Gonzalez from second after he stole the base moments earlier.
Steven Alvarez followed with a single to left that brought home Romy Gonzalez.
First baseman Jake Norman delivered the big hit of the inning when he blasted a pitch from East Lake starter Ryan Wall off the left field wall for a two-run double.
EL 000 002 0 – 2 4 1
AM 000 410 x – 5 5 1
WP: Alex Blanco (6-0). LP: Ryan Wall (5-2).