April 2, 2014 11:08:33 AM
Heritage Academy freshman pitcher Logan Sneed wasn't caught up in the rivalry against Starkville Academy or the playoff ramifications his team faced Tuesday night.
"I didn't worry about whether we were ahead or behind. I simply concentrated on throwing strikes," Sneed said. "I knew my fielders would back me up, so I just focused on throwing as many strikes as I could."
Sneed threw three innings of no-hit relief to help Heritage Academy rally for a 10-5 victory against Starkville Academy in the opening game of a three-game Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, District 1 series at Trip Carson Field.
The teams will play a doubleheader at 4 p.m. in Starkville today.
"Logan has done that all year for us," Heritage Academy coach Bruce Branch said. "He has been our biggest constant out of the bullpen. We have total confidence he is going to come in and fill the zone and give our teams a chance."
While Sneed was his normal self, the biggest storyline might have been on defense. Heritage Academy overcame its struggles in the field and committed only one error, which came with two outs in the seventh inning.
"It was so encouraging to see us play some really great defense behind our guys (on the mound)," Branch said. "We knew going into the season we would be a team that made some errors. However, we thought we would eventually get better defensively. Hopefully that is happening because we have had a struggle."
Cody Mordecai turned in two highlight-reel plays at shortstop. The Patriots also had perfect execution on two relay plays, catcher Dylan Barker caught an attempted basestealer, and the Patriots defended two bunt attempts to near perfection.
"The defense came through. It was really incredible tonight," Mordecai said. "Tonight, you saw what you can do when you play defense. It allows the pitchers to just concentrate on throwing strikes without them being too worried about extra base runners."
Starkville Academy (4-14, 2-8) scored twice in the first. Colt Chrestman and Billy McGee had back-to-back hits after a leadoff walk. McGee's hit plated one run and a sacrifice fly by John McReynolds plated the other.
Heritage Academy (11-8, 5-4) tied the game in its half of the inning on an RBI single by Barker. Another run scored when Starkville Academy -- also a team known for defensive misfortune -- committed its only two errors on back-to-back at-bats.
Starkville Academy built a 5-2 lead with three runs in the third. Heritage Academy starter Hunter Sykes allowed six hits in three innings, with four coming in that frame. An RBI single by McGee and two-run double by John McReynolds completed the scoring for the visitors.
"I was really worried," Branch said. "I didn't know how we would respond when they threw the first punch. We had some players who had that look in their eyes. I was really proud that our bounce back was really strong and we turned the momentum right away."
Consecutive hits by Jace Caldwell, Barker, and Tyler Anderson moved the Patriots within 5-4.
Heritage Academy chased freshman starter Landen Rogers an inning later. Rogers walked three in his final inning. The bullpen walked two more and Heritage Academy had the lead for good at 7-5.
The Patriots combined their 10 hits with eight walks, two hits batsman, and the two errors. The Patriots stranded 11 runners.
"This is a big win for us," Sykes said. "It's all about bragging rights because we see these guys at the State Games and whatnot, so you want to win. The biggest key to the game was Sneed's pitching and the defense behind him. I thought I threw a lot of strikes and they hit some balls hard. Logan came down and really settled everything down and gave the whole team a lift."
Mordecai and Barker were the lone multiple hitters for Heritage Academy. Thomas Cooper threw a scoreless seventh.
"They jumped on us pretty quick, but I knew after the third inning we were going to win the game," said Mordecai, who transferred to Heritage Academy last season but after the team had played Starkville Academy. "Since this is my first time to play Starkville, I really didn't know what to expect from the rivalry. But it lived up to everything I heard."
McGee had three of Starkville Academy's eight hits. Chrestman also had multiple hits.
Today, the series shifts to Starkville. Heritage Academy knows two victories today and victories against Hillcrest Christian next week could propel it into the playoffs.
"We need some wins and we know that," Sneed said. "This is a good start."
Mordecai also is ready to shift from the shortstop position to the pitcher's mound for today's opener.
"I am super excited about this opportunity," Mordecai said. "I am really ready to go."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter