CONYERS - Heritage baseball head coach Casey Teal is a student of the game, an example of what epitomizes a natural born leader.
How else could one explain his record of 87 wins and just 18 losses over the last three seasons with the Patriots?
"I'm passionate about Heritage baseball because of what the kids bring to the table," Teal said. "Right now, we are about as unsound of a team that you could find. We are not disciplined, and we are not practicing disciplined baseball right now.
"As time goes on though, you watch kids grow up and mature," he added. "They not only become very good baseball players, but you see them turn into very fine young men."
Teal is 152-47 in six years as the head coach for Heritage. The wins should only increase based on the talent he has returning to the diamond.
Last year, Heritage won its fourth consecutive 8-AAAA title, reaching the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs for the fourth time in a row.
"Every kid in our program is key," Teal said. "If they can learn how to play the game and actually play it in the right way, they will play a whole lot sooner than if they don't play the game the right way."
Seven seniors - Anthony Bazzani, Steven Crawley, Zane Barefield, Ryan Boss, Kelvan Diaz, Brandon Thomas and Chase Ware - bring plenty of experience to the Patriots.
On the mound, Bazzani was 7-2 with a 0.92 ERA as Heritage's ace last year. He also recorded a team-high 66 strikeouts.
Junior slugger Tyler Austin, the Citizen's 2008 Offensive Player of the Year, also returns from a remarkable season a year ago.
As a sophomore, Austin set three school records, including batting average (.626), home runs (19) and walks (33).
Austin had 37 RBIs, 62 runs scored, 17 stolen bases and batted .906 with runners in scoring position. On the hill, he was 7-1 overall with a 2.16 ERA.
Standing in Heritage's way this season are teams such as defending state champion Loganville, Salem, Rockdale, Madison County and Winder-Barrow.
"In my opinion, our region could very well be the toughest in the state of Georgia in AAAA. If Heritage were not even in the region, I would still say that our region is the toughest in the state," Teal said.
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Heritage baseball
Coach: Casey Teal (seventh year)
First game: 5:30 p.m. Monday at Marist
Key returning players: Anthony Bazzani, Kelvan Diaz, Tyler Austin and Travis Tarleton