Such was the case early on, when Heritage hosted the Northgate Broncos on May 20 in the first NCS baseball playoff game in Heritage’s short history. The Broncos took a 1-0 lead in the first inning with the help of two Patriot errors.
Heritage went three up and three down in the first two innings, and Northgate starter Chris Bataska collected three punch-outs in the process.
But then Heritage starter Juan Padilla settled into a groove and began mowing down Broncos, allowing only two base runners in the next four innings while striking out five. That kept the Pats in the game and gave them an opportunity to mount a comeback.
Heritage catcher Ryan Atlas started the comeback by leading off the third with a double to right, and was perfectly sacrificed over by Riley Kathain. One out later, Garrett Christensen singled home Atlas for the tying run, then promptly stole second.
He was driven in by Sean Packard, who smacked a double to left-center for a Heritage 2-1 lead. Mike Briseno then lined a 1-2 pitch up the middle to score Packard and put the Patriots up 3-1.
In the fourth, Heritage’s Kevin Harrity singled and advanced on a one-out single by Atlas. Jordan Heald-Mullins came through with a clutch two-out bloop double down the right-field line to score Harrity for a 4-1 Patriot lead.
After striking out the side in the fifth, Padilla gave up his first earned run in the sixth on a one-out triple by Pelayo and a wild pitch, cutting the Patriot lead to 4-2.
Heritage got the run back in its half of the sixth. Harrity walked and stole second. Back-to-back strikeouts by Bronco reliever Mike Kosturos threatened to squelch the Patriot rally. But pinch-hitter Stephen Zeiler ripped a double past the third base bag to score Harrity, making the score 5-2.
Padilla looked tired as he took the mound for the seventh. Perhaps sensing a crack in his armor, Bronco fans were urging their team on for a rally. But Padilla made an unassisted putout at first and got the next batter to fly out to right fielder Kyle Wells. The final out was third-to-first dribbler, sealing the victory.
“I was a little tired starting the seventh,” acknowledged a satisfied Padilla. “But that first out gave me the energy to finish it off. I never thought about coming out.”
Head Coach Gene Bower was thrilled at the outcome. “Huge, huge! This is as big as it gets,” he said. “We talked about not just making NCS, but going deep into the playoffs to show that we deserved to be here.”
Asked about the development of the team during the regular season, Bower said, “We defeated Arroyo – which is the seventh-seed in this tournament – early in the season. That gave us the confidence to believe we could play with anyone. By playing Deer Valley and Freedom three times each, as well as Pittsburgh and Antioch, we have played four really good teams this season.”
His praise of Padilla was unabashed. “JP was just phenomenal today. To their credit, Northgate is a very good team. But to get a complete game in the NCS is unheard of. Padilla is the most competitive player I have ever coached.”
Padilla is slated to attend Cal State Bakersfield in the fall, and intends to compete for a spot on the pitching staff in the 2010 season.
Unfortunately, in the second round of the playoffs, Heritage fell to third-seeded Casa Grande of Santa Rosa, 4-1. The Patriots finished the season with a 13-12 record, including victories over playoff teams Deer Valley and Freedom.