That era is over. When the North Coast Section playoffs begin, the once-upstart Heritage Patriots will enter as league champions. While the Patriots are well-rounded, their league title can be summed up by a simple fact: If opponents can’t score, they can’t win. Entering Thursday’s league finale at Deer Valley, Heritage and senior pitcher Lisa Rodrigues hadn’t allowed a single run to a league foe, which accounts for the team’s 9-0 record in BVAL play.
“We’ve all been pulling toward the same goal and coming together as a team,” Rodrigues said. “Even outside, we hang out together, so we’ve really come together as a family.”
The Patriots aren’t new to success. They shared the league title with Freedom last year, and while the Falcons won the tiebreaker, Heritage did manage to defeat them in the playoffs.
Despite the playoff win in 2011, bringing the league title home was foremost in the minds of the Patriots entering the season. “It’s been 11 years – I’ve been counting,” said head coach Ron Rivers. “I think we’ve grown up. We’ve grown up; worked hard. Even in this game (a 14-0 win over Liberty), I had to remind myself: hey, you’re up by 10. Get some other people in. The whole goal all year long was just focusing in on it.”
Over the last few years, the Patriots have played the Falcons tough, often winning the first game between the two teams. But inevitably, Freedom would answer by winning the second game, which not only evened the season series, but locked up the tiebreaker.
This year was different. True to form, Heritage did win the first meeting between the two teams, 5-0 at home. But when the Patriots and Falcons met again at Freedom the following month, there was no Patriots’ letdown, as they completed the season sweep with a 2-0 win, effectively locking the league title up in the process.
“We came out really focused that whole week,” said catcher and leadoff hitter Malia Rivers. “We were working hard in practice. Everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing. We were just saying that this was our year.”
Heritage takes its next step in the North Coast Section playoffs. The Patriots are hoping for a No. 2 seed, but that will be decided on Sunday. Regardless of their seeding, the Patriots know they have a long run in them.
“We have to practice really hard and play really hard together, like we don’t want to give up. We want to go all the way,” junior first baseman Ali Ramirez said. “We have to step it up at practice and the games. No matter who it is, we need to play like it’s the last game and give it our all.”