"It's huge," Heritage head coach Gene Bower said of winning the league opener. "We had to wait seven or eight games last year before we finally won one, so to jump out with a win was huge for our ball club. It's unbelievable how much we learned last year and how much better prepared we are this year. We weren't ready for this level of play last year. We made a tougher preseason schedule this year and it showed - we were ready to play today."
The Patriots capitalized on seven Panther errors, jumping out to an early 9-0 lead that they would never relinquish, although Antioch's impressive offense kept it in the game until the last out.
"Stroski got the first out of the game, then we had an error at second base and he couldn't work through it," said Antioch head coach Ben Juarez, who felt his team's sloppy defensive play had a direct correlation to its lackluster effort in recent practices. "The positive is that we didn't lay down. But, when you can't catch the ball, that's what happens."
Patriot designated hitter Ryan Howard has been on a tear lately - hitting everything hard - and that tear continued Tuesday with a 2-for-3 performance at the plate, including a double, a walk, a run scored and three RBIs.
Centerfielder Mike Briseno and shortstop Garrett Christiansen also shone at the plate for the Pats. Briseno went 2-for-4 against Antioch with a double, two runs scored and three RBIs, and Christiansen put up a 2-for-4 performance of his own, scoring two runs and stealing a base.
Juan Padilla started on the hill for Heritage and pitched well. Six of the eight runs he allowed were unearned, and he racked up three strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings of work. Andrew Palmer came on with one out in the sixth and pitched his way out of a tight jam, then slammed the door shut in the seventh to preserve the win. Palmer also got the job done with the stick, going 2-for-3 at the plate and scoring two runs.
"Palmer has become our main man out of the bullpen, shutting teams down and earning the closer title," said Bower. "He's doing a great job."
Antioch got big offensive contributions from Bo McAlpin, Bobby Dimaggio, Percy Campbell and Nicky Pasquale, each of whom went 2-for-4. McAlpin and Dimaggio both scored two and drove in two, while Pasquale augmented his big day with an exceptional showing out of the bullpen, throwing three scoreless innings to help the Panthers claw back into the contest.
Both Heritage and Antioch played road games on Thursday, Heritage traveling to Deer Valley and Antioch to Clayton Valley.
The two teams return to action Tuesday, March 18, when Antioch heads to Concord to take on perennial league powerhouse De La Salle and Heritage heads cross-town to take on Liberty. Both games are scheduled for 3:30 p.m.