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6A region baseball: Ace gets job done after Alonso rallies

TAMPA - Visitors to Alonso's field are greeted front and center by a team photo of the Ravens' state title team from two years ago. Along the backstop hang batters that tell Alonso's postseason success.

Orlando Dr. Phillips needed little introduction. The Panthers arrived in Tampa well-versed in their opponent - mainly knowing they'd have to chip away at the armor of Alonso ace Jose Fernandez to advance.

But it was Fernandez, a likely first-round draft pick next month, who dictated the outcome Friday night's Class 6A region final. His teammates scrapped to break open a tie game with a two-out sixth-inning rally, and Fernandez closed out the Panthers - reaching 98 on the radar gun on his final pitches - for a 4-2 win, clinching the Ravens' third straight trip to the state tournament.

"They came out and battled," Alonso coach Landy Faedo said. "They want the same things we want. We just came out on top this time. We have a lot of guys starting for the first time as juniors and seniors. They've put in their time and they've come out and done good things for us."

After Alonso took a 2-0 lead on two unearned runs in the third on Matt Brandy's opposite field double and Juan Bracamonte's RBI ground out, Dr. Phillips chipped away to tie the game in the fifth with a two-out rally that included four straight singles off Fernandez.

But the Ravens (21-5) answered with a two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth, opened by Chris Mejia's infield single. Ryan Valdes' single to the left-centerfield gap put runners at the corners, and both runners scored after a fielding error at short and a wild pitch.

"We do whatever we have to do to win," Alonso leftfielder Dylan Gross said. "If we have to scrap, we'll scrap. You put the ball in the right spot and good things happen."

That was all Fernandez would need against the Panthers (20-11).

"When the game was tied, I told my boys, 'Hey, we just need one run, guys,' " Fernandez said. "I knew it was my game once we got those runs."

Fernandez (12-1), who had just one strikeout over the first four innings, got seven of his last nine outs by strikeout, including striking out the side in the top of the seventh.

"I know I can throw fast," Fernandez said. "I know I can throw pitches for strikes. The first four innings, I'm just trying to get outs. They're going to get tired. They haven't seen my good stuff yet. They don't know my game plan. No one knows, not even my coach."

Said Dr. Phillips coach Mike Bradley: "He juiced up a couple, but his biggest pitch wasn't his fastball. It's was his slider. Game on the line, a big horse on the mound, throwing 98, 96, yeah he's going to rely on the heat."