NHSI: American Heritage Outlasts Hamilton

CARY, N.C.—American Heritage outlasted Hamilton High in a marathon game to close out the National High School Invitational, defeating the Huskies 6-5 in 11 innings.

“Yeah, a thriller. Back and forth the whole time,” head coach Bruce Aven said. “Good thing about our kids, we never quit, never gave up.”

This game was a battle throughout, but the outlook for American Heritage was bleak for a majority of the game. Hamilton starter Dustin Bermudez held American Heritage off the board for the first five innings, and the Huskies pushed across three runs.

Shortstop Drew Swift led the Hamilton charge. He smashed a triple into the right-center field gap before coming home on a Nick Brueser sacrifice fly to open scoring in the top of the third.

Hamilton pushed across two more in the top of the sixth, courtesy of a Britton Graham two-RBI single.

Down 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth the Patriots finally found the scoreboard. After the first two hitters got on, Cory Acton laced a double down the right-field line.

“I feel real comfortable with lefties, and I was looking for a fastball down the middle, just put it in play and just get the runners over,” Acton said,  “and it found a hole.”

Acton’s double brought in a run, and by the end of the sixth inning the scoreboard read 3-2.

Hamilton manufactured another run in the top of the seventh to put American Heritage’s back against the wall, down 4-2, three outs to go.

“You’re gonna have speed bumps, we had them . . . Everything was about finding a way to win,” Aven said.

The Patriots battled in the bottom half. With each batter the American Heritage dugout became more lively. They loaded the bases with two outs with Acton striding up to the plate.

With the count 2-2, Aven asked the umpire for time to pinch-run for Triston Casas, who was on first.

“A ball to second base, who do we have faster that can beat it out in case in happens,” Aven said. “Let’s use some of our speed that way if they bobble a ball or something like that there is no force play at second base.”

That decision turned out to be game-saving. On the next pitch, Acton hit a chopper up the middle, and with anyone but pinch-runner Gavin Smith on the bases, the Huskies would have been able to get the force at second.

Two runs came home on the play, and the momentum effectively shifted to the Patriots. The game was now tied.

Going into extra innings, Aven had a decision to make. Pitcher Anthony Boix—who was hurt to start the season—had not thrown many innings this year. But there was no doubt from the coaching staff that leaving him in was the right decision.

“He was throwing the ball good . . . We we’re trying to build him up to get more innings,” Aven said. “We extended him today, probably twice as long as he’s all year on pitch count.”

The decision to leave him in put Boix in some high-pressure situations, but the junior righthander had no fear.

“I don’t believe in pressure in sports. I really don’t, I think it’s entertainment,” Boix said. “Pressure is a life-threatening situation, it’s not in sports. Sports is fun.”

Boix finished up with four innings pitched, giving up only one run, on an RBI double by Joe McLaughlin in the top of the eleventh.

Again cornered, American Heritage had to rally. The first batter of the inning got on, followed by a sacrifice bunt to move him to second.

Leadoff hitter Alfonso Guillen—who replaced Mark Vientos in the sixth—doubled in the tying run. An intentional walk to Casas, followed by a groundout and another walk brought catcher Santiago Garavito to the plate. Garavito had been a brick wall behind the plate all day, and now had a chance to win the game for the Patriots. He took the first pitch for a strike, and then drilled the next in between short and third.

“We have to win,” Garavito said. “This is the moment, we had to.”

An emphatic Patriots squad stormed onto the field, throwing whatever objects they had in their hands to the sky.

“It all came down to heart, and giving it all you got,” Garavito said.

American Heritage battled back twice on Saturday, and faced numerous obstacles, but the Patriots still found a way to win.

“To have a group that goes out there and battles like that,” Aven said. “This is what we’re striving for.”

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