HENDERSOVILLE – Pope John Paul II High senior Dalton Heath hurled his team into the Division II-AA State Tournament with a 5-1 victory over visiting Montgomery Bell Academy on Saturday afternoon at Servpro Field.
“I was just wanting to throw strikes,” Heath said. “I knew I had a solid defense behind me. I just let them take care of the rest.”
The host squad won the first two games of the best-of-three, quarterfinal series – which began with Thursday afternoon’s 5-0 victory.
Heath (6-1) tossed a complete-game three-hitter, issuing two base on balls and allowing one unearned run while striking out three hitters.
“He’s been there for us all year,” PJP II head coach Michael Brown said of Heath, who has signed to play baseball for Chattanooga State Community College next year. “He competes like nobody’s business. He was tired at the end, but he just kept coming.”
Heath was locked in a pitcher’s duel with MBA senior Brandon Bennett early on. However, Knights’ junior rightfielder Jordan Weems put the Knights on the board with an opposite-field home run to rightfield on a 3-2 pitch in third inning. It was the first hit of the game for PJP II.
“I knew that was the spark we needed,” Heath said. “That set the tone for the rest of the game.”
The Knights (19-15) added two more runs in the sixth inning on junior centerfielder Pace Dempsey’s run-scoring single and an run-scoring fielder’s choice from senior first baseman Ryan Hatten.
The Knights added two runs in the seventh on a dropped fly ball off the bat of junior catcher Jack Shuttleworth.
Heath gave up a run in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly for the Big Red’s only run.
PJP II opens state-tournament play at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Wilson Central High, facing Christian Brothers. The Knights suffered a 1-0 loss to defending state champion Christian Brothers in their state opener last season, and PJP II dropped a 6-4 decision in their state opener to Christian Brothers in 2013, the only other year that the program has reached the state level.
PJP II is in search of its first victory at the state tournament.
Junior Mason Hickman, a Vanderbilt University commitment, is expected to start for the Knights on Tuesday.
“We’ve got our guy rested and ready to go,” Brown said of Hickman. “He pitched the best game of his high-school career against them last year. We’re going to need that out of him again, and we need to scratch out some runs.”
PJP II 001 002 2 – 5 4 1
MBA 000 000 1 – 1 3 1
Dalton Heath and Jack Shuttleworth; Brandon Bennett, Miller Freeman (7) and Sam Morris. WP – Dalton Heath (6-1). LP – Brandon Bennett. Home runs: PJP II – Jordan Weems. Records: PJP II 19-15, MBA 8-24.