March 2, 2013 10:32:47 PM
BY DAVID MILLER
Special to the Dispatch
Snow, wind, rain - Bruce Branch wants his Heritage Academy baseball time to be ready to roll in any weather.
The Patriots coach wasn't surprised following his team's 13-0 win over West Lowndes High School on Saturday, given the crisp practice they'd had in similar chilly, windy conditions the night before.
Sharpening the focus of a team that opens Class AAA conference play against Magnolia Heights on Monday is vital due to weather limiting teams across the area.
Aside from one error, the Patriots (3-1) played mistake free and mounted more than 10 hits, including a three-RBI game from Matt Thatcher.
"Mentally, we came ready to play," Branch said. "It was good to see our guys keep that focus throughout the game. We needed a game like this heading into our conference opener; Mag. Heights is a very good team, fundamentally."
Parker Dunaway, in his first outing of the season, registered seven strikeouts in three innings and recorded the win. Thirty-five of Dunaway's 45 pitches were strikeouts.
"Parker Dunaway came in and consistently threw strikes for us," Branch said. "That's what we expect out of him. He's a gamer.
"He was just trying to work it over the plate and get a workout," Branch added. "We had him on a pitch county, and we just wanted him to fill up the zone."
Following a game in which the Panthers committed three errors - all of which surrendered a run - gave up a string of infield hits and mustered just one hit of their own, coach Todd Stanley lamented his team's sluggishness.
"We played a great game defensively last night, but I think we were out here worried about it being cold," Stanley said. "But we're going to get it right. There's a lot we're gonna have to get cleaned up."
Stanley praised reliever Eric Crawford for his stellar pitching after registering a pair of strikeouts. The Panthers (1-1) open district play against French Camp on Tuesday.
The Patriots have won three in a row following an opening-day loss to rival Starkville Academy. Saturday's game marked a season-high for runs.
Dunaway was 3-for-4, and seven Patriots drove in at least one run.
"That was positive," Branch said. "But that, along with her fielding has got to continue to come along."