February 23, 2010 9:12:00 AM
The beauty of having young, inexperienced players is coaches never know what they''re going to get.
After falling behind 3-0 in the season opener to Winston Academy, Heritage Academy baseball coach Steve Hancock wasn''t sure how his team would respond.
Without its best player -- Austin Braddock -- and with only five upperclassmen on its 17-player roster, Heritage Academy showed the grit and determination Monday that Hancock hopes to see a lot of this season.
Heritage Academy rallied for four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning for a 4-3 victory in the first game Monday at Trip Carson Field. Tyler Farnham (three RBIs) and Joey Kleis (two) sparked the hitting in a 13-3 victory in the nightcap. The second game was called in the bottom of the fourth due to the 10-run mercy rule.
"It was an interesting evening," Hancock said. "Maybe we shouldn''t have won that first one, but I have lost enough of them, so I am not going to give it back."
Heritage Academy (2-0) escaped the first game thanks to a sixth-inning rally that included one hit (a double by James Clark), two walks, two hit batters, two errors, and a balk.
Camp Pittman pitched six strong innings to get the victory. He allowed just four hits and three unearned runs and walked three and struck out nine.
Two of the runs came in the first inning on an opposite-field home run by catcher John Hamilton after a two-out error.
Winston Academy tacked on another run in the third inning after a hit by Taylor Moody, an error, a wild pitch, and a double by Hamilton.
But Heritage Academy used a 1-5-2 pickoff of a runner from third base and a pickoff of a runner going to second base to escape more trouble in the fifth.
Another pickoff of a runner at second base and a double play orchestrated by Clark at shortstop in the sixth kept it at a three-run game, which allowed Heritage Academy to rally.
"They could have easily just folded the tent," Hancock said. "I thought there was a lot of resiliency on their part. They battled back."
Cole Eller came on to pitch the seventh for the save.
"He came in and shut the door. That was huge," Hancock said.
In game two, Clark and Parker Dunaway combined on the victory. Clark, a freshman, allowed five hits and struck out seven in four innings. Dunaway allowed one hit and a run in the fifth.
Dunaway (three runs) and Clark each had two hits and an RBI to lead the team at the plate. Farnham, Kleis, Pittman, Eller, and Tyler Marchak also had hits in the nightcap.
Braddock, a junior pitcher and infielder, had Tommy John surgery in the offseason. It is possible he could return to the team in a limited role this season, but Hancock isn''t counting on it. Instead, the second-year coach is counting on a group of 12 eighth-, ninth-, and 10-graders to play a key role. He knows he and his coaches will have to do plenty of teaching this season, but the potential of his team excites him.
"The good thing is they''re just going to get better as time goes on," Hancock said.
Hancock said his pitchers have to do a better job of using their pitchers. He said his starters had strikeouts on their mind too much and, as a result, threw more pitches than they needed. With such a young team, he said being more efficient on the mound.
Heritage Academy started four freshmen in each game, so there will be plenty of new experiences and chances to learn this season. But Hancock believes his players have the right attitude and that they are ready to work hard this season.
"They know they have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to get to," Hancock said. "Just because we''re young doesn''t mean we can''t go out and give people a run for their money."
Heritage Academy plays host to Tuscaloosa Academy at 5 and 7 p.m. Monday. It travels to Winston Academy on Tuesday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.