American has advanced to the state baseball tournament twice in four seasons under the tutelage of former major-leaguer Ricky Gutierrez.
But a championship has eluded the Patriots both times.
That drought could end this season.
With the Patriots moving down to Class 7A and returning one of their most talented rosters, their first state championship is within sight.
Gutierrez is keeping his team grounded despite the hype.
“We know a lot of eyes will be on us this year, but we aren’t focused on that,” Gutierrez said. “Our mentality is to work hard, play ball and win games.”
Last season, American’s state championship pursuit ended abruptly after the Patriots were shut out 6-0 by Plant City Durant and 2013 second-round draft pick Tyler Danish in the Class 8A state semifinals.
Eight starters and 12 seniors overall return from that team, led by a pair of Division I commitments.
Junior third baseman Roman Gonzalez hit .382 last season and is committed to the University of Miami. Senior outfielder Kevin Williams, a Kansas State commitment who hit .388 last year, leads the outfield.
The middle infield should be among the strongest groups in the county with senior shortstop Edison Cabrera and senior second baseman Eric Gonzalez (Palm Beach State College signee).
The pitching staff is led by senior Ronald Williams, another Palm Beach State College signee who anchors the rotation, which got deeper this season with transfers Mike Rodriguez and Jake Norman. Norman will mostly play first base. Rodriguez, a junior, is an early commitment to FIU.
Senior catcher Steven Alvarez, a critical part of last year’s run to the state final four, is also back.
“We are a talented group with a lot of depth,” Gutierrez said.
“With last year’s loss, my guys are hungry.”
With American gone from Class 8A, Killian, Coral Gables, Columbus and South Dade lead the pack of contenders vying for a spot at the state tournament to be held May 14-22 in Fort Myers.
Coral Gables has one of its deepest rosters in many years, led by junior shortstop Robert Montes, junior catcher Elih Marrero and junior pitcher transfer Andrew Cabezas. The Cavaliers have not advanced to state since 1995 and have only one regional playoff win since, but they have a group of 14 juniors and three sophomores with the potential to end that drought.
Killian is another team with a strong core of juniors and arguably one the best pitching staffs in the county. Right-handed juniors Keith Stevens, Frank Follaco and Vladimir Nunez, and lefty junior Ryan Granda have been dubbed “The Four Horsemen” by their teammates and anchor the Cougars, who reached the regional semifinals last season.
Columbus has seven seniors starting, including outfielder Ryan Alvarez, a UM signee; catcher Nelson Mompierre, an FIU signee; first baseman Christian Garabedian, a Maine signee; and outfielder/pitcher Gil Torres, a Nova Southeastern signee.
South Dade might have the top pitcher in Dade in FIU signee Erik Manoah, who had a 1.65 ERA with 68 strikeouts last season.
DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
PRESEASON TOP 10
3. Coral Gables
4. Westminster Christian
6. South Dade
7. Florida Christian
9. Mater Academy
10. Monsignor Pace