CONYERS - If Heritage is to overtake first-place Madison County and capture the Region 8-AAAA regular season championship, senior hurler Anthony Bazzani is sure to have a say.
Bazzani struck out 10 in six dominant innings as Heritage defeated Rockdale County 6-5, holding off a furious Bulldogs' rally in the seventh-inning for its fourth consecutive win.
Bazzani scattered four singles and walked two before leaving after six innings with a 6-0 lead. Rockdale County was more than happy to see the lanky hurler exit and tagged ineffective reliever Tyler Austin in the bottom of the seventh with two walks, a single and Zach Mathis' two-run double to cut the lead to 6-2. Brandon Thomas relieved Austin and after getting a strike out, served up a three-run home run to Ryan Conner that made it a 6-5 game. Thomas finally stopped the bleeding, getting two ground outs to preserve the win.
"(Bazzani) pitched well, he shut them out (but) he threw 101 pitches and (Heritage had) a 6-0 lead," Heritage coach Casey Teal said of lifting Bazzani after six shutout innings. "We need to use our relief down the road."
The Patriots jumped out early, getting three runs in the first inning using a style of play Teal called "small ball." Joseph Lester stole home on a double steal and Austin scampered home on a safety squeeze for the first two runs. Travis Tarleton scored when Rockdale third baseman Chris Robuck threw over the head of starter and losing pitcher Landen Blackwell (5 IP, 3 ER, 6 BB) following another double steal to put Heritage up 3-0.
Heritage (13-5, 11-2) kept adding to the lead, getting an RBI single from Ryan Cochran in the third inning; Tarleton hit a bloop, RBI single in the fifth and Austin drew a bases-loaded walk in the sixth for a 6-0 lead.
In between, Bazzani was masterful, keeping Rockdale (7-7, 5-7) off-balance with a low-80s fastball and an effective breaking ball. The right-hander also got help from his defense as Austin, recently clocked at 1.8 seconds from home plate to second base, picked off two runners at third base with perfect throws. After a lead off single in the bottom of the sixth, shortstop Nick Woodward started a nifty double play and Bazzani followed with his 10th and final strikeout.
"(Bazzani) put us in position to win; he did what he had to do to be successful," Teal said. "Got a win, still in contention. I'll take a 'W' any day."