Written by Corbett Smith
Rockwall-Heath keeps on winning thanks to Hernandez, Thompson
HEATH — Seeing Rockwall-Heath in the regional finals for the second straight season might not seem like a shock.
After all, Heath won its first 38 games last year and returned two preseason All-Americans: juniors Jovan Hernandez and Jake Thompson.
But what gets lost in the program’s successes is that Heath lost 14 seniors from last year’s team, including seven all-district performers.
“I didn’t know a lot of the new faces on the team,” said senior outfielder Nick Petersen, one of only three seniors on the team. “They weren’t guys I’d played with a lot with in the past, and I didn’t really know what to expect. But I knew we had a few guys returning that were obviously very hungry and were going to do everything they could to get the team back to where we were.”
Heath faces Mesquite Poteet in a best-of-3 series for the Class 4A Region II title and a trip to the state tournament in Round Rock. Game 1 of the series is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Duncanville High School.
Outfielder Grayson Lewis, pitcher Jake Baxter and designated hitter Timbo Duncan moved up from the junior varsity this season and provided solid contributions.
“I’ve played with all these guys since I was little,” Hernandez said. “I knew what they got.”
Largely, though, the burden has been shouldered by Hernandez and Thompson.
Both hit two home runs in last week’s series against Waxahachie. Hernandez is hitting .407, while Thompson, the team’s top pitcher, is batting .513.
“They’re our two best pitchers, they’re our two best hitters, our two best clutch hitters, our two biggest RBI guys,” coach Greg Harvey said. “It’s almost impossible to say what they’ve meant to our team. I think they are two of the best players in the state.”
As impressive as Heath’s winning streak was last season, Harvey and his players said that it left them vulnerable to upset in the playoffs, creating a misplaced sense of invincibility that isn’t conducive to winning in the postseason.
“It caused a lot of problems, because we approached Round 5 last year thinking that we were going to state,” Harvey said. “Mentally, we weren’t focused and ready to play like I believe we are this year.
“Our guys felt like it was destiny, that it was going to happen. I actually had people asking me what day we would leave [for Round Rock]. I haven’t had that at all this year, thank goodness.”
While the winning streak came to an end in a Game 2 loss to Cleburne the week before, Frisco Wakeland swept Heath out of the playoffs by a combined 26-9 in the Region II final.
Thompson, who went 9-2 with a 1.52 ERA and 108 strikeouts, lost his last two starts, two of three losses that Heath suffered last season.
“I was very disappointed,” Thompson said. “I didn’t end my season on a good note.
“I really want to do better this year and end on a good note.”