Late-inning activity in the Heath High School baseball team's bullpen rarely means the starting pitcher is in trouble.

Late-inning activity in the Heath High School baseball team's bullpen rarely means the starting pitcher is in trouble.

"He wasn't going to come out," coach Dave Klontz said of junior Alex Van Dine, who turned in the staff's 11th complete game last Wednesday during a 5-0 home victory against Columbus Academy.

Van Dine, who pushed his record to 5-0, gave up a leadoff single in the top of the sixth but easily escaped with a strikeout, pickoff and pop up to second base. He returned to strike out the side in the seventh inning, wrapping up an efficient 85-minute MSL-Ohio Division game.

"My college coach once told me it's easier to watch a kid going around the bases after a home run than it is watching them go base to base after walks," long-time pitching coach Mike Saalfield said. "So our kids throw strikes."

That's enabled senior catcher Kevin Sharrock to thrive in the system, too.

"Coach Saalfield is a tremendous pitch caller and our pitchers go out there and execute," he said. "I just do my job. They make it a lot, lot easier."

Klontz gives plenty of credit to Saalfield for the team's two Division III state championships this decade, but Sharrock is the other common denominator relating to last spring's title run. The pitching staff graduated front-line starters Greg Strausz and Dusty Elk, who was ThisWeek's Player of the Year, and now has been restocked with lesser-experienced pitchers. The results have been similar, however, and even better regular-season wise.

"Kevin's learned a lot from Mike," Klontz said. "Mike gives him the option of picking pitches; nobody probably knows better in some situations than the kid on the field. He's caught about every inning for us this year, certainly in the league games. He's one of our quiet assets."

The Bulldogs were 15-1 overall and 8-0 in the league entering last Friday's game with Granville but still were not ranked in the top 10 in the state poll.

"Our kids have made the pitches we call and our fielders have made the plays behind them," said Saalfield, a Fairport Harbor product who later pitched at Capital University. "And Mike, he's a big part of the game we call."

Van Dine, who had 14 strikeouts last Wednesday to run his season total to 40, has completed all five of his starts and also saved league wins over the Blue Aces (11-8 on April 9) and two-time defending-champion Licking Valley (7-5 on April 14). Trey Matthews, a junior and perhaps the biggest surprise on the staff, started 4-0 with three complete games. Junior Steven Kidwell started 3-0 and finished once. Sophomore Tim Patterson and freshman Cole Benner, whose eighth-inning single plated the winning run last Monday during a 5-4 league win over Bexley, also have thrown complete games with Benner winning twice.

"Kidwell, he's the speed guy. He brings heat," Sharrock said. "Alex, he puts it where you call it. And Matthews, he just goes out there and does his job. He's really matured.

"These guys all had big shoes to fill and they've filled them."

Offensively, Sharrock also has been among the catalysts batting fifth behind Kidwell and ahead of Cole Anders. Chuck LaRue entered last week batting .535 with two homers and 18 RBI, and leadoff batter Nick Jones was hitting .500. Sharrock had 18 RBI and Kidwell 15.

The Bulldogs play host to Newark Catholic on Monday and Whitehall on Tuesday before visiting Licking Valley on Wednesday. Van Dine won the 6-2 first-round game against the Green Wave on April 11- handing the Bulldogs their first victory in the series since 2003 - and Kidwell beat Panthers' ace Darren Athey when they countered each other. Matthews was on the mound for the 16-2 win against Whitehall on April 16.

So the Bulldogs, who had a two-game advantage in the MSL-Ohio following Licking Valley's 9-4 loss to Bexley last Wednesday, clearly should have enough pitching to succeed again facing three league games in as many days.

"So far, anyway, everybody's on the same page," Klontz said. "It doesn't get any better than that."