CONYERS - The Heritage baseball team won an 11-inning marathon in the opening game of its Class AAAA second-round playoff series Wednesday at Danny Blue Field.
Sophomore Tyler Austin's leadoff, walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th lifted the Patriots (25-4) to a 6-5 victory over Dalton (16-13) in a wild game that saw Heritage on the verge of victory until a violent outfield collision in the top of the seventh gave the Catamounts new life.
But Austin wasn't the only hero for the Patriots.
Junior Brandon Thomas turned in a masterful relief pitching performance to notch the victory and his sharp base running tied the game again in the bottom of the eighth. Junior Anthony Bazzani also delivered a clutch double to score Thomas and force more extra innings.
In fact, the Patriots jumped out to a 3-0 lead all the way back in the first inning of the 3 hour, 55 minute game. Joseph Lester's two-out, two-run single gave Heritage the lead, and the junior scored the third run from second on an error by the Dalton shortstop.
In the bottom of the second, Austin crushed his fourth home run of the playoffs, a solo shot to left-center, extending the Heritage lead to 4-0.
Bazzani, the Heritage starting pitcher, tossed six scoreless innings, holding Dalton to just two hits. He collected seven strikeouts.
The junior right-hander got into trouble only once in the top of the fifth, but right fielder Ryan Cochran gunned down Dalton's Stryker Brown at the plate for the third out, keeping the Catamounts off the scoreboard.
In the top of the seventh, Austin took over on the mound for Bazzani and got into trouble when the Catamounts loaded the bases with one out.
Dalton's Colton Kinnamon followed with a shot into the gap in right-center. Lester, the Heritage center fielder, and Cochran collided violently in the gap with the impact knocking the ball out of Lester's glove, clearing the bases and cutting Heritage's lead to 4-3.
Both Lester and Cochran were taken off the field by an ambulance to the hospital as the game was delayed for about 25 minutes. Cochran appeared to suffer a serious leg injury. His leg was placed in a splint before he was transported.
Heritage's Nick Matteen replaced Austin on the mound after the delay and his errant pickoff throw to third allowed Kinnamon to score the tying run.
In the top of the eighth, the Catamounts loaded the bases against Matteen with no outs. At that point, Thomas relieved Matteen and almost worked his way out of the jam.
However, Dalton pushed across a run on a squeeze bunt off the bat of Phillip Schenck to take a 5-4 lead.
But the Patriots answered in the bottom of the frame. First, Thomas smacked a one-out single and then he scored on Bazzani's double off the wall in right-center field on a hit-and-run play.
After that, Thomas shut down Dalton in ninth, 10th, and 11th innings, allowing only one base runner during that stretch.
Heritage threatened to score in both the ninth and 10th before Austin strolled to the plate to lead off the 11th. The sophomore crushed a 2-0 belt-high fastball for a towering home run down the line in left field, his fifth of the postseason.
Heritage's second game finished after The Citizen's deadline. Please see Friday's edition of the Citizen for complete coverage.