Jacob Heath’s pitching in the 8A state championship series helped Strawberry Crest get to the title game.
Strawberry Crest’s pitching depth was one of the baseball team’s strengths in the 2019 season: five of its six arms with at least 10 appearances finished with an ERA below 2.00. That depth was on display in the state championship tournament when reliever Jacob Heath came in during both games. The senior pitched the final inning of the semifinal game against George Jenkins and helped prevent an Eagles comeback win, then went in for four innings in the next night’s finale and gave up just one hit while striking out five.
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What are your thoughts about the state championship game, even though it didn’t end exactly how you all wanted it to?
Well, we went in there pretty much with nothing to lose. We were just gonna leave it all out on the field as a team. It was just an overall great game. It wasn’t the outcome we had hoped for, but a very well-played game by both teams. I feel like we represented our hometown well out there and put us on the map a little bit, showing how good of a baseball town we are. Since Little League and All-Stars, I’ve played Plant City and they were even good back then… we’ve known each other or known about each other for a long time. A lot of people are friends on both sides, so it was a very competitive game. Both teams wanted it more than anything, but Plant City came out on top that time. They were a really good team this year. There’s a lot of people who could be up for Athlete of the Week. Parker Messick, he had a heck of a tournament. Tyler Dowdy, he hit the crap out of the ball in both games and came up with the clutch hit that wound up being the game-winner for them. On our side, we had Tanner Kelley, Alex Marshall, Ben Pues, Kade (Manderscheid) threw the heck out of the ball for us and we wouldn’t be where we were without him this season, that’s for sure.
And you had a great outing in that game. When you got the ball during the biggest game of your baseball career, what was going through your head?
I knew Plant City had been scoring runs like crazy in the tournament and postseason, so I knew I’d have to go out there and give them my best stuff. With adrenaline pumping, I went in there and pretty much just gave it everything I got with every pitch. Tried to hit my spots. Whatever was called, I was throwing it. I didn’t really think too much about what was happening, I just took it one pitch at a time.
Up in the press box, a few of us were talking about how focused you looked in the fifth inning in particular. With Messick, (Hunter) Emerine, Dowdy up — heart of an order that just went nuts on McArthur the night before — you straight up challenged them to get a hit off of you and you won. Your team looked really pumped by that. What was going through your mind in that inning?
I was pretty much up for the challenge. I just wanted to prove to myself and everybody else that I was the right man for that spot and just test myself against good hitters like them. I just wanted to see what would happen and it turned out pretty good in our favor.
What’s some of the best advice your coaches have given you?
Our last practice, I hadn’t been producing as much as I like to. Coach (Eric) Beattie came up to me after practice and said, “It doesn’t matter what’s happened throughout these past 10 games, but no one’s gonna think about that if you just go up and do your thing… you can have a fresh start for these next two games and just leave it all out on the field.” It was refreshing to hear, having that confidence behind me and that motivation. It gave me an extra boost.