For better or worse, Coach Paul Heaney might have learned something about his Burroughs High baseball team Friday.
They aren't afraid to run.
Before the Foothill League game against Schurr, Heaney gave his entire team permission to steal whenever the opportunity arose. The Indians took full advantage of the freedom, stealing five bases in seven attempts and beating the Spartans in nine innings, 6-5.
"Every kid had the green light," Heaney said. "I don't think they expected us to run in the situations we ran in."
Heaney probably didn't expect the players to run either, in some situations. His runners stole three bases in the crucial eighth and ninth innings, and were caught two other times.
Said Heaney: "They want to win so bad in this program that they'll do anything they can to win it."
Stealing bases is part of the process.
While spending the previous two years as an assistant to Bell-Jeff Coach Hal Krug, Heaney learned the intricacies of base-stealing. He has turned that knowledge into new hope for a struggling Burroughs program. The Indians were 5-15 last year, and have not made the playoffs since 1976.
With Heaney and Krug waving runners around the bases, Bell-Jeff finished third in the Sante Fe League with an 8-4 record in 1985. The Guards had 116 steals in the regular season as they advanced to the 1-A playoffs.
"I had always liked to run," Heaney said, "And on the varsity level, Hal showed me how to run on the pitchers as well as the catchers."
With Friday's victory, Burroughs holds an overall record of 5-3 and is 1-2 in league.
On a team that returned only one letterman from last season, converted third baseman E.J. Pape, Heaney and his stable of greyhounds have run up some blinding numbers. The Indians have stolen 45 bases in 53 attempts, including a school-record 14 against Saugus in the preseason La Canada tournament. Junior Bobby Niers leads the team with 11.
"When I was in high school, I was fast and had a coach who liked to run," Heaney said. "Hal Krug really helped me refine it, and running opens up new avenues on the offense."
One avenue that has been a one-way street so far is the Indians' hitting attack--it has primarily been in the opposing pitchers' direction. Burroughs' team batting average is .259, which Heaney attributes to inexperience. "We don't want them looking at strikes," he said. "We try to protect our runners."
The Indians' success on the basepaths is even more impressive, considering the number of left-handed pitchers they have come up against--seven in eight games. Left-handed pitchers are more difficult to steal against since they face first base.
"The only problem is we don't face anyone but lefties," Heaney said. "But we are learning to steal against lefties."
The Indians have batted against right-handed pitchers in only 13 out of 51 innings this season.
Despite the obstacles, Heaney, 33, has not budged from his preseason standards. He established stolen base goals for every level of Burroughs baseball, long before the first set of cleats were broken in. The varsity and freshman-sophomore squads are shooting for 120 steals each. The junior varsity team is aiming for 160. The school record, set in 1973, is a meager 61 in comparison.
The accumulation of bases is not just a side show for Burroughs, however. Heaney's bottom line is the development of his players, and perhaps a trip to the playoffs.
"Stealing keeps them interested and makes it fun for them, and it teaches them to be aggressive," Heaney said. "We want to get the kids into a higher level program, and they look at speed, so we try to develop them for speed.
"Our kids take more pride in their head-first sliding than they do on their steals."
If the Indians keep hitting like they did against Schurr, Heaney might be wiser to let his players' bats advance the base runners.
Junior Mike Bruse was 4 for 5 with a three-run homer in the fifth inning that gave Burroughs a 4-1 lead. Bruse also had the game-winning hit. With two out in the bottom of the ninth, he singled over the pitcher's mound to bring Kevin Johnson home from third.
Pitcher Tom Ruffner went all nine innings for the Indians, earning his third win of the season in four decisions. The senior right-hander struck out 10.