On April 22 the Patriots beat the Falcons 6-1 to sweep this season’s three encounters between the teams and keep their 7-0 unbeaten streak in league play alive. The Patriots came into the contest on fire, having outscored their opponents, Liberty and Pittsburg, 28-0 in the two games prior. And they had beaten Freedom by a collective 14-2 score in their previous encounters.
So it might have been a bit of a surprise for Patriot players and fans when the game against Freedom remained scoreless after four innings.
“We were on kind of a bit of a roll scoring a bunch of runs,” said Heritage Manager Kevin Brannan. “I think that we probably showed up thinking it was going to be another one of these deals because we had beat them and the same pitcher (Dante Mayes) the last time pretty good. And he pitched well. The strike zone was expanded. Our guys kind of rested on their laurels. Luckily our guy on the mound did a real good job.”
The Heritage guy on the mound, Paul Blackburn, did an especially good job in the third inning, striking out the side after Freedom put runners on first and third with nobody out. “Paul threw strikes and got us out of a big jam,” said Brannan. “That was a huge part of the game. Because if they score, it’s a different game, especially at their place.”
Blackburn again struck out the side in the fifth after the Falcons scored their one and only run on back-to-back doubles. He ended up with 12 strikeouts for the game. “Paul, the last time out, had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning, gave up a hit,” said Brannan. “So we kind of expect that of him. I had him last year as a freshman. He’s pretty special. You’re going to hear his name for a while. Luckily we get him for the rest of this year and two more after that. So we’re pretty lucky.”
The Heritage manager considers himself pretty lucky to have a lot of big guns at his disposal. On the mound, in addition to Blackburn and his 1.02 ERA, the Patriots have Cole Wells (0.88 ERA in 40 innings), Jack Jorgensen (2.33 ERA) and Sean Packard (2.10 ERA), who is expected back for the stretch run after being out a month due to a broken jaw in a pitching machine accident.
At the plate, Ryan Howell is leading the team with a .395 average, 21 RBIs (as of last week) and two home runs, followed by Dayton Mellor (.386 average, 12 RBIs).
But just about everyone contributes on this deep team. A single by Ryan Atlas after Howell had walked and stolen second led to the first Heritage run and the floodgates opening in the fifth. “That was a clutch hit on his part,” said Brannan. “And then once we got the lead they kind of got back into what we have done well, which is swinging the bat and making plays.”
Heritage scored four runs in that inning via those swinging bats and helped by some sloppy fielding by Freedom’s young team, followed by an additional run in each of the last two innings.
“It’s a big win, obviously,” said Brannan. “The next one is Deer Valley. I was a little bit leery of them looking past this game to get to Deer Valley. Luckily we were able to get out of here with a W.”
Asked about the great season so far, he said, “I have a pretty talented team. It’s pretty easy to look like a super coach when you’ve got the kind of pitching that we have and the guys swinging the bat pretty well. All of the credit goes to these guys. Obviously, so far we’ve had one or two little hiccups and we’re kind of doing what we should do against the teams that we should beat. We have one that we probably would like to have back. But overall I can’t complain.”