Heritage is almost literally limping toward the finish line. Surviving may be a bit of an understatement for this Heritage baseball team. They're 11-7 (6-5 Region 8-AAAAA) despite being hit with enough injuries to force head coach Jason Borcherding into an early retirement.
Heritage started the season with more than 15 players on the varsity roster, now when the Patriots hit the diamond they do it with just one or two players on their bench. A 2-4 start to region play didn't help either, but Heritage has won four of its last six region games and now they're in fifth place in the region behind Salem and Flowery Branch, who are tied for fourth.
"We put ourselves into a position where games that we play moving forward - they matter," Borcherding said.
The top four teams in the region will make the playoffs, and Heritage has a legitimate chance to be one of those teams. The fact that they were able to fight through this type of adversity is an accomplishment in itself, but a trip to the playoffs would be the icing on the cake.
"It says everything about the kids. They find a way. They find a way to persevere," Borcherding said proudly about the team being in playoff contention. "They're tough. We wouldn't be in this position if we weren't so I'm extremely proud of those guys. They've done everything I've asked them to do."
Heritage has lost six players - two were dismissed and four to injury - total since the beginning of the season. Heritage has been playing with nine or 10 healthy bodies for the past few weeks.
Borcherding says "team ball" has been a major factor for them. He admires them for not quitting when other teams would have with less adversity and says he's most proud of their perseverance.
The Patriots have been winning by committee. With the losses they've had, players have had to adjust to new positions than they're used to playing.
Heritage lost its two best players early in the season when the No. 1 left-handed pitcher/first baseman George Mahl dislocated his kneecap in the third game of the season. They lost their catcher, Anthony Williams to broken hand after it was hit by a bat in the first region series. Then Heritage's No. 2 arm, Josh Parnell, went down and freshmen Jake Beach hasn't been able to throw either.
These events thrusted players like Matt Studdard and Yoiler Guevara to the mound. Studdard has become a true No. 1 pitcher, he's a beast and when he pitches the Patriots chances of winning increase greatly. Guevara has gone from a No. 3 guy to the No. 2 and Borcherding says he's been doing really well for them.
"I knew early on in the season that we were going to end up developing more arms because every year we deal with something like this. Every year we've had some type of crazy situation happen where somebody gets injured," Borcherding said. "Ever since I've been here we've had 13 season-ending injuries in the five years that I've been here."
Drew Terrell, who was out last year with a spinal fracture, was the starting second baseman at the beginning of the year. He's now the starting catcher and a pitcher. Nick Evans has been really flexible for Heritage as well, he went from starting left field to playing second base. Replacing Mahl, Studdard plays first when he's not pitching.
"It's very interchangeable. That's the one thing that we've developed - a level of flexibility. I usually keep my numbers down from a roster standpoint because I play a lot of guys so what I look for is flexibility in players," Borcherding said. "When you keep your numbers down, you've got to have that flexibility to be able to move guys in and out. Everybody's engaged. They know that they're going to have an opportunity to play and so it doesn't get into one of those situations where you've got guys that are just sitting on the bench. It was the same way from a pitching standpoint. All these guys have worked to pitch for us so that if we needed somebody to go into a game they've all had enough experience and thrown enough."
"We've had a lot of guys that where we've had to have some flexibility and those guys have been great about being flexible and doing what the team needs. Ultimately when it's all said and done that's the only way we've survived is playing team ball," Borcherding said.
Heritage will have to find a way to win again when it faces Salem in a crucial series that could determine which team goes to the playoffs beginning Monday at Salem, 5:55 p.m.