April 9, 2013 10:33:12 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Bruce Branch feels blessed.
There's no other way for the Heritage Academy baseball coach to describe his feeling when he learned his program would acquire the services of Cody Mordecai. It's one thing to welcome a player back to the team from injury, but Branch had no idea to expect his program would benefit from the transfer of Mordecai, a junior pitcher/infielder, from Clover, S.C.
Mordecai, who used to attend New Hope High School, joined the Heritage Academy baseball team for its doubleheader against Madison-Ridgeland Academy on March 28 and went 2-for-2. Last week, Mordecai made an even bigger impact, pitched the Patriots to a pair of victories and going 7-for-13.
For his accomplishments, Mordecai is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"I think I have done a lot better than I was," Mordecai said. "It is because of all the hitting we have done and all of the work we have done on technique."
Mordecai pitched five innings of two-hit ball Tuesday in a 10-0 victory against Lee Academy. He also had three hits in the doubleheader sweep. On Saturday, he threw five innings and allowed four hits, three runs (two earned), and two walks in a 9-3 victory against Columbus. He also struck out two and was 3-for-3 with two runs scored.
In six games, Mordecai is hitting 9-for-22 (.500) with four RBIs. He has logged 13 1/3 innings in three games and has allowed 10 hits and four walks. He has 18 strikeouts.
Mordecai, who transferred from Clover High, a public school with approximately 2,000 students in Clover, S.C., said the extra time he has been able to spend working on his hitting has helped him reach his potential. He said his father recently asked him if he wanted to return to Mississippi and he jumped at the chance. Clover is in York County in northern South Carolina, right on the border with North Carolina and a short distance to Charlotte, N.C.
"I guess God allowed it to happen," Mordecai said.
Mordecai said he grew up with and played baseball with M.J. Hamrick and Jace Caldwell for a number of years, which made the transition to a new team and a new school that much easier. He said he has tried to prove to his coaches and to his teammates he is capable of producing.
Branch said the addition of Mordecai and the expected return of Hamrick, a right-handed pitcher/infielder who has battled injuries this season, will bolster a pitching rotation that includes James Clark, Caldwell, Clark Atkins, and Parker Dunaway.
Branch said Hamrick was expected to make his first start of the season Monday against Winston Academy, but that game was canceled. He said it is one a seven or eight games the Patriots have lost to bad weather.
"We felt like we were right there and pretty close to where we needed to be as a team before Cody came along," Branch said. "The way I have explained it is maybe he is the missing piece to the puzzle that we need to put together."
Branch said he has experimented with Mordecai in several spots in the batting order. He said he started him in the No. 7 spot in an attempt to ease him into the action. With Dunaway hitting in the leadoff spot for most of the season, Branch opted to push Mordecai, a right-handed hitter, to the top of the order and kick Dunaway, who he feels is a good contact hitter, into the No. 2 hole. Branch said Mordecai's versatility, he can play third base, shortstop, and outfield, strengthens the defense because it allows him to keep Hunter Sykes at second base, which he feels is the best position for him.
"We felt like he was one of our better hitters," Branch said. "He produced in the No. 7 hole, and the next game he hit in the No. 2 hole behind Parker Dunaway. ... We put him in the leadoff spot and he really has accepted the role there. It gives us some more options and do more things and get him in scoring position.
"He stays after practice a lot of the days. A lot of the days he is in here before practice. You can tell he is a key who is a perfectionist. If he doesn't feel he does well out there, he is going to stay extra and get the extra cuts. You can see when he is on the field hitting he is going to work that much harder to keep his hands inside the ball or do whatever he needs to make those adjustments."
Mordecai appreciates the work of Branch and assistant coach Chris Ball have done with him and how they have helped hit back side and to hit the ball back up the middle. Now that he has had a chance to play in six games, Mordecai hopes he can continue to contribute to help the Patriots make a push to reach the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools playoffs.
"I feel pretty comfortable here," said Mordecai, who will return to South Carolina this summer to play on a travel ball team. "I just want to improve my hitting and pitching. I want to throw a little harder by the end of the year and be an overall better player."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.