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Heath knocking on state baseball finals door once again

By Keith Thompson. (Stephen McClung photo) HEATH – The opponent is different. The stadium is different. The majority of the team is different with five new starters. However, the opportunity available to the Heath Hawks baseball team is identical to the one they had last year at this same point of the season: win two games and punch a ticket to the Final Four of the 4A state playoffs at Dell Diamond in Round Rock TX, June 9-11.

The Hawks were perched in the same place one year ago when Frisco Wakeland brought an end to the most celebrated season in the brief history of the program by upsetting Heath in two games. This year’s conqueror of that Wakeland team is the Mesquite Poteet Pirates and they prepare to battle the Hawks in the Region II finals at Duncanville High School Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm. If necessary, game three will take place Saturday evening at 7:30.

Coach Greg Harvey’s Heath squad had to replace four very talented seniors from the 2010 team which spent most the year ranked first in the nation and in Texas. Harvey did not garner a lot of sympathy from his peers, however, as they knew Heath had two of the best players in Texas returning in Jovan Hernandez (above right) and Jake Thompson for their junior campaigns. These two each put together sophomore seasons that were remarkable and each of them received both All-State and All American recognition.

Playing with big targets on their backs, the two have responded this year with more outstanding play. Hernandez has seen his batting average rise to over .400 with 11 HRs and 52 RBI, while putting together a miniscule 1.39 ERA on the mound, while compiling an 11-0 record. Thompson has also been magnificent, as he is hitting .512 with 14 HRs and 56 RBI. He also has posted 11 wins on the mound and has amassed 124 strikeouts in only 80.33 innings pitched. They follow each other on the mound and in the batting order and have been as dynamic a combo that any school could ever hope to have. They are very determined to lead their team to Round Rock as each play with a tremendous competitive spirit.

The two leaders of the team have had outstanding support all year from the two returning starters: senior center fielder Nick Peterson and sophomore shortstop Bret Boswell. Peterson has tracked down every ball hit into center field and has supplied a lot of punch at the plate with very timely hitting. He has put together a .413 average with 33 RBI and has been very instrumental in his leadership role as he is the lone senior starter. He will be missed.

Boswell, on the other hand, will take the field for Harvey and Heath for two more seasons. After spending most of his freshman season at 2B and left field, “Bos” has seamlessly moved into the shortstop spot manned by All-State Trevor Holland in 2010. Although the only sophomore starter and the youngest starter, he has put together a memorable season both offensively and defensively. His smooth fielding actions have anchored the middle of the Hawk defense as he has worked equally well with both second basemen, Blake Brown and Cade Flory. Boswell has also taken full advantage of his second spot in the batting order directly in front of Thompson and Hernandez. Going into Thursday’s action, he is hitting .397 with 5 HRs and 32 RBI. Not surprisingly, he also leads the team in runs scored with 55. If not somewhat overshadowed by Hernandez and Thompson, “Bos” would have received much more notoriety.

Other Hawks who have led this charge to the Elite Eight begin with move-in transfer Jake Bledsoe at catcher. A junior who has hit at nearly a .400 clip and supplied the Hawks with numerous clutch two-out run-scoring hits, he has made many teams pay for trying to pitch around Hernandez and Thompson as his 42 RBI are third on the team. Austin Stewart has handled the leadoff spot for the Hawks most of the year. The speedy right-fielder possesses one of the strongest throwing arms in the area and is a constant threat to steal or drop down a bunt at any time. Look for Stewart to move into centerfield next season. An additional source of pop for Heath has been supplied by Timbo Duncan, the junior designated hitter. Duncan is third on the team with 6 HRs and has knocked in 35 runs.

Junior Jake Baxter has been in left field for Heath when not serving as the team’s third starting pitcher. Baxter also handles 1B on the days when Thompson is on the mound. Jake has pitched extremely well with seven total W’s including two playoff wins. Along with Caleb Copley, Baxter gives the Hawks tremendous depth on the mound. Grayson Lewis wears the title of “Mr. Versatility” for Heath. At one point or another during the season he has played left field, third base, pitcher, catcher, second base, and right field. His versatility makes him very valuable to Coach Harvey defensively while his average of .311 and bulldog demeanor make him a very tough out at the end of Heath’s order.

Heath is ready and they are far from being a “two headed monster” as Poteet’s Pirates will find out. The Pirates are an experienced senior squad which is banking on the arms of seniors Blake Griffin and Chad Young to lead them to state. Both are committed to Navarro Junior College to continue their careers. Coach Bobby Doe’s team is filled with senior experience. Catcher Beau Nowell directs the defense and is a timely and clutch hitter at the plate. Ryan Taylor has also been a mainstay for Poteet in the three hole. Seniors Tony Deleon and Javier Soltero are solid, experienced players who bring both intensity and talent to the Pirate infield at second and third base respectively. Poteet is a tradition rich school and poises a big obstacle for the Hawks. However, this is a hungry group of Heath players who are anxious to get the taste of last year’s loss out of their mouths.

It should be a great series to watch. Dell Diamond and the Final Four await the winner.

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