Pitcher’s preseason plan playing out at PCA

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 15, 2001

[05/15/01] One chilly night in late January, Porters Chapel Academy coach Randy Wright showed up to watch a basketball game and was stunned to see the baseball field lights shining brightly over the school.

When he went out to see why they were turned on nearly a month before baseball season, he was stunned again. His ace pitcher, Heath Smith, was lying on the pitcher’s mound.

When Wright asked him what he was doing, Smith simply looked at his coach and said, “I’m dreaming of a state championship.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“I wanted to know who it was and why my lights were on, and when I got out here it was that doggone Smith out here walking around the infield and laying down on the pitcher’s mound. He told me he was just visualizing what the season was going to be like,” Wright said.

Now, five months later, Smith and the rest of his PCA (21-11) teammates don’t have to dream anymore. They’ll open the Academy-A championship series at home against Heidelberg Academy (19-4) Tuesday night at 7.

Smith (11-1), who has a 0.93 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings, will start Game 1 against Heidelberg’s Matt Culberson.

“It’s a dream come true. It’s like deja vu,” Smith said. “Everything that I’ve ever thought about the whole season, everything I’ve imagined since before the season and the first game, is coming true. It’s happening.”

PCA’s dreams of a state title have been building for the last four or five seasons, but Smith’s meditation started in November. After work, he would come out to PCA’s baseball field and sit on the mound in the darkness, visualizing a roaring crowd on top of the hill that rises above the first-base line, Wright barking instructions from the bench and his teammates on the field behind him.

“At night I came out here about 8:30 or 9:00. One time I laid out there on the mound, put my head on the rubber and accidentally fell asleep,” Smith said with a laugh.

Later in the winter, the thoughts and dreams turned into a full-fledged practice by himself.

Smith, who plays second base when he isn’t pitching, would walk around the infield pretending to take grounders. Or he would be on the mound, imagining himself pitching in the state finals strangely enough, against Heidelberg.

“(Wright) always told us we were going to play Heidelberg, and they were winning games. I’d read about them … and pretend we were playing them and I was pitching,” he said.

Other times, he would stand at home plate and throw balls into the air and hit them, just like a small child imagining playing in the seventh game of the World Series. He would hit a crate of balls, go to the outfield and pick them up, then start all over. The “practices” eventually increased to two or three a week.

One night, Wright and a couple of teammates showed up for a basketball game and Smith’s routine was discovered.

“I looked out here and saw Heath sitting on the mound,” PCA catcher Walter Bliss said. “It was bizarre. I’d never seen anybody lie on the pitcher’s mound just thinking about baseball.”

Wright didn’t think it was weird. It showed Smith’s desire to help the team win a state title, the coach said.

“It’s a very strong desire by him to help this team get there,” Wright said. “He’s put everything he’s got into it.

“When the season’s over, Heath Smith is going to be able to say he’s done absolutely everything he can do to help this team win a state championship.”

Smith will have to give it his all in this round. The Eagles face a Heidelberg squad that is young four freshman and one sophomore start but has good senior leadership from Culberson, shortstop Scott McInnis and center fielder Derek McKey.

The Rebels are also on a roll, having won 16 straight after struggling to a 3-4 start. Heidelberg assistant coach Tom Lewis said his team doesn’t wow anyone, it just finds ways to win.

“We make mistakes, but we just overcome them,” Lewis said. “Every week is a new challenge. This week, they have the best other team in the state, so it should be a tough row to hoe.”

Especially if Smith is on his game.

During the regular season, the senior right-hander allowed only six earned runs in 68 innings, a span of 10 starts.

Compared to that standard, he has been somewhat touchable in the playoffs. He has a 2.00 ERA and has allowed 17 hits and seven walks in 21 innings. But he’s still been dominant enough to strike out 25 and go 3-0 with one save in the postseason.

He also seems indestructible. Should the Eagles lose Game 1 Tuesday night, Smith said he would have no problem pitching both games of Friday’s doubleheader at Heidelberg.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I want this thing so bad I don’t care if I have to pitch 50 innings.”

If Smith’s practice scenario plays out, however, that shouldn’t be necessary. The end of the dream was the best part.

“We won,” Smith said. “We thumped them.”