Senior Tyler Farnham stood in the breezeway at Trip Carson Field, facing the baseball diamond where his high school career ended just minutes earlier.
His eyes, still watery, focused on nothing in particular. After several minutes, his hands moved to his hips and his body hunched slightly, the signs of nearly seven hours of baseball that ended the wrong way.
The few remaining Heritage Academy fans tried to console him with hugs and handshakes on this late Friday night, yet their words weren”t enough to minimize the missed opportunities that halted the Patriots one victory short of a berth in the Class AAA, Division II state championship series. Despite his efforts, Heritage Academy”s most successful baseball season in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools ended to Copiah Academy, which won the best-of-three series with a 23-17 victory in Game 3 that pushed both teams.
“I appreciate our team fighting back, and fighting for our seniors,” Farnham said. “Because we knew it would probably be our last game.”
The Patriots rebounded from a 15-8 Game 1 loss at Copiah Academy on Wednesday to win Friday”s Game 2 10-4 thanks to a career day by senior Austin Braddock, who hit for the cycle and pitched a complete game.
The third game, which immediately followed Braddock”s heroics, started fast for Heritage Academy, which led 8-0 after four innings. But Copiah Academy scored 13 runs in the fourth thanks to home runs by Trevor Blocker, Colton Brown, and Casey Hurley, who went 3-for-5 with two home runs in Game 3.
Heritage Academy (24-10) countered, scoring in every one of the following innings but the last. Still, neither its offense nor seventh-inning rally caps could halt Copiah Academy (19-15).
It was a surreal moment for Farnham, who after the loss still wore his baseball cap inside out, as if there was a way his career at Heritage Academy had not ended on series earlier than he planned.
“We fought, we fought we fought, we competed,” Heritage Academy coach Bruce Branch said. “What else could I have asked for? It just wasn”t meant to be tonight.”
And with that moment, the careers of five seniors ended, but not before they left a legacy of resurgence. As sophomores, they helped the 2009 seniors reach the playoffs, a first in the program”s history. As juniors, the Patriots slipped, forcing them to watch the playoffs as spectators.
This season marked a return to the postseason. Braddock recovered from Tommy John surgery. Right-hander Camp Pittman started the season on a tear, and Farnham solidified the infield.
The Patriots won their first 13 games, won the Smith-Willis Spring Break Classic, and won district en route to earning a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“We”ve worked hard every day, every single day,” Farnham said. “That was our goal …We knew what it took. Our coaches told us at the beginning of the season what it was going to take. We pushed as hard as we could.”
Farnham and Mathew Sykes led Heritage Academy in the first game of the series with two hits apiece, but it was far from enough to compete against Copiah Academy”s six home runs.
On Friday, Braddock”s play highlighted the Patriots” fast start in Game 2 with a solo shot to left center in the first. Farnham also went 2-for-4 and drove in a run, giving Heritage Academy momentum entering the final game.
But Copiah Academy, trailing 8-0 in Game 3, proved to have more than enough bats to rally.
“I felt when we came out that (fifth) inning,” Farnham said, “we were pretty chill, just trying to take it easy. But I knew we were going to get a wake-up call.”
Bruce said he never seriously considered re-entering Braddock in Game 3. He had already thrown 115 pitches in Game 2, allowing four runs on eight hits in seven innings.
“He told me, ”Coach I can go. I can go, but it was going to have to be a point in the game with it on the line,” Branch said. “We were going to win it or lose it with him on the mound.
“Austin”s got a future. It”s not here, but at East Mississippi, and I would never jeopardize a kid”s arm.”
Said Braddock, “I”m glad he tried to protect me, but I was going to lay it on the line for my team.”
Heritage Academy came as close as 19-17 in the bottom of the sixth, but never had enough offense to go ahead or enough defense to curtail Copiah Academy, which scored four runs in the seventh.
“We just couldn”t stop the bleeding when it needed to be stopped,” Branch said.