By JOEL COLEMAN
If nothing else, Starkville Academy has now received its reminder of how humbling the game of baseball can be.
Riding the momentum of a home doubleheader sweep over Pillow Academy in their last outing on Thursday, SA committed seven total errors in dropping an 11-1 decision to Heritage Academy at Volunteer Field on Tuesday.
"I always think before games that we'll be there mentally, ready to play," said Volunteers second-year head coach Neal Henry. "We just didn't show up for some reason or another. I take full responsibility for them not being able to show up. It's the coach's job to get them motivated and I did a poor job of that."
It didn't take long for Heritage (15-2, 6-1 in conference play) to get the jump on SA as the Vols' defensive miscues played a strong part in a three-run first inning for the Patriots.
The remaining five frames of the mercy-rule shortened contest didn't get much better for SA (7-8, 3-4 in conference play) or its trio of pitchers, starter Hunter Bolin, who was saddled with the loss, and relievers Alex Holtcamp and Stephen Robertson.
Though Bolin, Holtcamp and Robertson gave up just five hits combined, the Vols' defense couldn't shake their doldrums.
"You can make excuses all day long," said Henry. "You can say it's a bad day, the weather's bad, the field's wet and all that stuff, but when it comes down to it, you can't make excuses. No excuse is good enough for why we can't make plays."
Pitching with a lead the entire game, Heritage starting hurler Camp Pittman notched a complete-game win by surrendering just five hits and SA's lone run which came on a sixth-inning wild pitch that allowed Robertson to cross home.
The senior right-hander and East Mississippi Community College signee said he relied primarily on his fastball to hold down the Vols.
"I maybe threw two change-ups and 10 curveballs total," said Pittman. "All you have to do is spot up...where you throw (the fastball) and it was one of those days where I was hitting my spots. When you do that, all you really need to rely on is your fastball."
Pittman's outing silenced a Volunteers offense that scored 18 total runs in its two games against Pillow five days prior.
"We hit some balls hard, but it seemed everything just went right at (Heritage)," said Henry.
While the Patriots committed two errors themselves, Heritage stayed in control of the game throughout, putting an exclamation point on things with a six-run sixth inning that all but ended SA's chances.
Patriots head coach Bruce Branch said his team simply took advantage of an uncharacteristic performance by the Vols.
"I felt both teams came out sluggish," said Branch. "I was telling my assistant, it felt like we were in slow motion. But we were able to capitalize on some of the errors (SA) made early and it allowed us to get on the board early.
"This is a very good Starkville team. They are a really good, scrappy bunch of guys. You can't ever count them out too early."
For one day however, SA showed few signs of life. They'll get the chance for redemption Thursday when they travel to Columbus for a rematch with Heritage in a varsity doubleheader that begins at 4 p.m.
"That's why we play every other day," said Henry. "It's not like football where you've got a week to think about it. You've got a day to think about things, maybe two days, but then you've got to be ready to play the next one."