Building for future, Westminster Academy baseball takes solace after state semifinal loss

·3 min read

Knowing a formidable opponent was opposite Westminster Academy in the third base dugout, the Lions expected they’d have to go punch for punch with a St. Johns Country Day team that hit .344 entering Thursday afternoon.

The Spartans, like they have all season, scored runs and kept the pressure on Westminster and advanced to the Class 2A state championship game with a decisive 8-3 win. St. Johns Country Day will now face Lakeland Christian, which were 3-0 winners over Naples St. John Neumann, in the final on Saturday at 11 a.m.

“They looked like they had a strong, experienced team,” Westminster Academy coach Ernie Gonzalez said. “They had 10 or 11 seniors. We have five seniors. We’re building and still building with a good group of sophomores and juniors.

“… Hats off to them. They’re a good ballclub. They can swing it. Every guy in their lineup swung the bat well. It was a good game, it could’ve gone either way.”

Westminster, which made its first appearance in a state semifinal since 2000, put pressure on the No. 1 team in the class from the outset, singling in three of their first four at-bats. The Lions would score just once, leaving the bases loaded with two outs. Luke Dennstedt hit a sharp lineout to end the frame.

From there, St. Johns (26-4) went to work at the plate and did all of their damage with two outs. After Shawn Andrade got hit by a pitch, Seth Alford tripled in Kyle Boylston and Andrade, before Isaiah Mamea plated him with an RBI single.

Westminster Academy baseball players celebrate after their 9-4 win over defending Class 2A state baseball champion Miami Christian on Tuesday.
Westminster Academy baseball players celebrate after their 9-4 win over defending Class 2A state baseball champion Miami Christian on Tuesday.

That first inning was a microcosm of what St. Johns coach Tom Lucas expected the game to be: a game where both sides would land blows. The first four innings were back and forth before the Spartans put up two runs in the bottom of the fifth and another in the sixth to get enough separation.

“We talk about fights, like in fights, they’re gonna throw some jabs, we want to throw some haymakers,” Lucas said. “We want to land some big blows. We take pride in if the other team scores, almost to take offense to it. We’re going to come out here and really show you what scoring is about. That’s a big motto of ours: if we score, you better answer. It almost fires the guys up when the other team puts up a run.”

Julian Irizarry gave the Lions solid contributions at the top of the lineup, going 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. South Florida commit Seth Alford was a home run away from hitting for the cycle, plating three while scoring three runs for St. Johns.

The Lions (16-10-1) will look to rebound and get back to Fort Myers next season in 2A, looking to make even further strides in what would be Gonzalez’s fifth season leading the program. Gonzalez is optimistic his program will get over the hump and snap a state title drought spanning two-plus decades.

“The last time the school was here was in the Rich Hofman era when he won two straight state championships in 1999 and 2000,” Gonzalez said. “… In 2007, I met him and we always stay in touch. To all the former baseball coaches in the WA baseball community that’s been around for 50 years, they’ve all reached out to us wishing us good luck.

“They should feel proud to be a part of Westminster Academy, which is a staple in Broward County and in South Florida. They put us back on the map, and I’m proud of them, and I’m motivated to start throwing BP next fall and hitting ground balls in September.”