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St. John Country Day One Win From State Title

Westminster Academy cleared a major hurdle earlier this week, when they broke through and defeated Miami Christian, a team that has taken them out the past few years from the state 2A playoffs.

That meant the Lions secured their first trip to the state final four under Manager Ernie Gonzalez.

On Thursday, the Lions traveled to Fort Myers to take on Jacksonville powerhouse St. John Country Day. Westminster scored took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, then fell behind 3-1 in the bottom half. The Lions battled back all day, but eventually fell to the Spartans 8-3, ending their magical playoff run.

“We felt like we had a chance there in the first inning, and several times throughout the game, where if a couple of inches here or there on some balls we hit, and this could have been a different outcome,” said Gonzalez.

Jesus Garcia, who has missed a lot of the season due to various injuries, got the Lions on the board with an RBI single in the first.

Junior Colin Cartagena got the ball on the mound for Westminster, and the Spartans offense greeted him with three runs in the bottom of the first. Cartagena, however, was able to battle through four tough innings against a strong hitting Spartans lineup.

“They had great approaches and obviously they are a very good hitting team throughout their entire lineup,” said Gonzalez. “Colin left some of his off-speed pitches up, and they were able to take advantage and hit the ball hard. Credit to them for the way they swung the bats.”

Despite falling behind, the Lions did not fall apart, like many teams do when trailing in the state semifinals. Instead, Westminster came up in the top of the fourth trailing 5-1, and the offense went to work.

JC Hernandez reached on an error to lead off the inning, and Landon Petrisko was hit by a pitch. Luke Dennstedt then loaded the bases with a single of his own.

A sacrifice fly off the bat of Isaiah Fernandez cut the lead to 5-2. Petrisko then lost his footing getting back to second after a failed bunt attempt, and was picked off second for the first out of the inning.

Still, the Lions kept battling. Calvin Martin followed with a single, putting runners on the corners, and Julian Irizarry’s base hit cut the lead to 5-3. Robert Nedry, one of the Lions top hitters, then put together a strong at-bat, and hit a ball on a line to deep left, but the Spartans had him played perfectly, and the rally was cut short.

“Robert had a great at-bat, and if that ball is a few feet either way, we may have had a tie game right there,” said Gonzalez.

Irizarry finished the day with three of the Lions seven hits, in his first taste of the state tournament.

On the other side, St. John came into this season having lost a bunch of seniors off a team that fell short last year, but that didn’t stop the Spartans from setting high expectations.

“We worked really hard all season with our scheduling, and making sure we played some of the top teams around to prepare us for this,” said Manager Tom Lucas. “We were able to watch a few of their games, and we knew they had a strong offense coming in, so those three runs in the first gave us a little breathing room, and we swung the bats well all day.”

Junior Seth Alford had a big day for the Spartans, going 3-for-3, with three runs, and three RBIs. George Gilson also drove in two runs on the afternoon.

St. John will now move on to face Lakeland Christian in the championship game on Saturday.

As for the Lions, Gonzalez and his seniors know that even though they fell short of a state title, the season set the foundations for future Westminster teams.

“We made sure the young guys understood what the goal was and how to work to get where we wanted to go,” said Petrisko, one of the teams six seniors.

“When I came here four years ago, these guys were just freshman,” said Gonzalez. “And I knew the success and standard of winning that Westminster has had in the past. These guys worked hard to get us back to this spot, and have set a great example for the guys coming back of what the standard looks like. I am proud of the way all the guys battled today, and all year, to get to this point. It just wasn’t our day.”

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