Patriots swinging for success on diamond

Press file photo

Heritage junior pitcher Christian Machado is slated to be one of the Patriots best players this season.

In recent years, Heritage High School’s baseball team has established itself as not only the team to beat in the Bay Valley Athletic League, but one of the best in the entire North Coast Section (NCS).

Whether that will hold true again this year remains to be seen, but through the early weeks of the season, it appears to be the case again.

Kevin Brannan – now in his 11th year guiding the program – noted how much the team has accomplished in terms of deep postseason runs and Major League Baseball players like Paul Blackburn. At this point of the year, he doesn’t put this year’s group behind any of the prior Heritage teams.

“I won’t place any one team or class above another, but I can say that there isn’t a team or class that is better than this one,” Brannan said. “This might be the most baseball savvy and mature team we’ve had as well. I think between our deep runs in the playoffs and their high level experiences over the summer they’re just all very comfortable. It trickles down to the new guys. They see the swagger, the maturity, the work ethic and it’s contagious. That said, as special as this team can be the groundwork for that was laid out by the teams before them.”

The Patriots have won back-to-back league titles. In each of the last four years, they’ve reached the NCS semifinals or better. This includes last season, when they reached the finals but lost to De La Salle. A number of players from those teams are on the diamond at Heritage this year.

Four seniors – shortstop and pitcher Ryan Jackson, outfielder and pitcher Keith Jones, infielder Chaz Myers and pitcher Chase Goddard have already committed to play in college, going to the University of Nevada Reno, Washington State, University of Pacific and Westmont – Santa Barbara, respectively. Another college commit is junior outfielder Gavin Tonkel, who’s headed to Sacramento State after his 2021 graduation.

Other key players include seniors Ryan Troye and Casey Turtucci, juniors Brandon Marion, Cristian Machado and Brennan Rocha as well as sophomore JoJo Roman.

“This team has six players who were either full time or spot starters as sophomores (Jackson, Myers, Jones, Tonkel, Machado and now Roman) and two more in Turturici and Troye who took a spot right away as juniors and have never looked back,” Brannan said.

The schedule the Patriots face will be daunting. In April, they’ll play in Sacramento’s Boras Classic, one of the top high school tournaments in the country. They’ve also mixed in quality NCS opponents (College Park, Foothill) as well as powers from other sections (Burlingame, Vacaville, Tracy).

Additionally, the BVAL schedule will be different than in past years. Previously, teams played a round-robin format, where they played their five opponents once then generally played them again in the same order at whatever school was on the road through the first time. That format allowed opponents to set up favorable matchups in the pitching rotation and lineup. This year’s schedule won’t allow for that, as BVAL opponents will play each other twice a week.

The Patriots will open the league slate against at home against Deer Valley on Tuesday, March 31. The two teams will meet again two days later with the Wolverines hosting. The BVAL schedule will continue when the Heritage takes Pittsburg on the road on Tuesday, April 21, and home two days later. That cycle will continue the following weeks against Liberty, Freedom and Antioch with the Patriots hosting the first game and the opponent hosting the second each week.

Regardless of the challenging schedule, with a deep group of returning players, the possibilities of what this team can accomplish are definitely high. Still, Brannan noted that the team doesn’t have any set goals. Instead, he noted that the team’s internal goal is “to have a good practice every day.” From there, the rest can take care of itself.

“We don’t practice to win BVAL titles or NCS games,” said Brannan. “Half the time, our kids don’t even know who is next on the schedule. We just want to get ready every day. A BVAL title and a run in the playoffs is a goal every year, but we have had zero conversations about it. We want our kids to be prepared, do their jobs in the classroom, and be good kids in the community. If we hit some milestones along the way, great!”