May 10, 2009
The Heritage Academy Patriots went from nearly striking out completely to striking back before finally having their season come to an end Friday night.
Heritage was held scoreless on two hits with nine strikeouts through four innings before battling back in a 4-3 loss to Hillcrest Christian in the Mississippi Private School Association Class AAA playoffs.
The Patriots (10-16) finished with only three hits and 16 strikeouts and didn''t have an RBI hit, but had a chance to win when they scored a run and loaded the bases in their last at-bat.
Heritage had it''s home run leader, Austin Braddock, at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, but he went down swinging.
"Tonight was a night we had a legitmate chance," said Heritage Academy coach Steve Hancock. "We had a shot at it. We just could''t pull it off. I had the guy I wanted at the plate. Austin is just a freshman and by the time he''s a junior and senior, he squares that pitch up."
The loss ended Heritage''s first playoff appearance since 2002 and its first since moving up to Class AAA.
"I am extremely proud of them," said Hancock, who completed his frist season as Heritage''s coach. "We''ve tried to do everything we can do to change the culture of baseball around here. We''ve got to follow that up.
"It was a great year. The record might not excite a lot of people, but when you win eight games in this league (MPSA Class AAA North) you''ve done something. The kids bought into what we were trying to do. They worked hard."
Heritage trailed 3-0 when it broke through with two runs in the bottom of the fifth.Sernior Tyler Farnham scored on an error and senior Jesse Painter scored on the back end of a double steal.
After falling behind 4-2, Heritage made for an exciting finish when Painter scored on an error and Braddock had a chance to bat with the bases loaded.
But Hillcrest Christian junior pitcher Josh Rogers struck out Braddock for his 16th strikeout of the game.
The only hits Rogers allowed were two singles to senior Cole Vaughan and a sixth-inning single to Braddock. One of Vaughan''s hits was a blooper just out of the reach of third baseman Austin Hargzog.
"He''s got a big time breaking ball," Hancock said of Rogers. "He''s got a big time changeup. He can spot up his fastball. When you can do that, you know, hitters can''t sit on just one pitch. He does a great job throwing a backdoor breaking ball. He challenges hitters. He makes a living off of guys trying to pull it. His breaking ball has such bite to it. If you try to pull it you''re playing right into him."
Heritage struggled to get going against Rogers after being limited to one hit by Hartzog in a 7-0 loss in the series opener Tuesday.
"They''ve got three Division I pitchers," Hancock said of Hillcrest. "You don''t see that in high school. They''ve got the kid (Chase Wroten) that signed with Southern Miss that we didn''t see in this series. We saw the kid (Hartzog) that committed to Ole Miss. The Rogers kid could pitch for about 80 percent of the Division I programs in the country. He''s just little, but I can tell you he''s a heck of a ballplayer."
Vaughan went the distance on the mound to suffer the loss for Heritage. He allowed four runs and 10 hits to go with three strikeouts. He helped his own cause in the third when he started an inning-ending doubleplay.
Vaughan also benefitted when Painter, the shortstop, threw out Rogers at third in the seventh, and right fielder Tyler White made a diving catch to end the seventh. Both of Painter''s and White''s plays saved runs.
Corey Norwood was the leading hitter for Hillcrest with a two-run homer in the fourth and a single. Hartzog had two singles and Caleb Dugas and Jarod Vandevender had doubles.