Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Buford's Josh Heddinger is the Daily Post Pitcher of the Year. He helped the Wolves win the Class AA state title this season.
BUFORD -- Possessing a 90-plus mph fastball, a sharp breaking ball or a baffling changeup are gifts any pitcher would love to be blessed with.
However, it is the little things about pitching that can be just as important to having success on the mound -- things Josh Heddinger focused on in every outing this spring.
And judging from the results, the Buford right-hander and 2011 Daily Post Pitcher of the Year was dialed in.
His 10-0 record, 1.96 ERA and 87 strikeouts against just 24 walks in 641/3 innings played a major role in the Wolves claiming the Class AA state championship -- the program's first title since 1977.
But the anatomy of those numbers can be dissected into many different categories of how they were accomplished.
One area is mechanics, an area Heddinger put a lot of focus and effort into this season.
"It was mainly my lower half (of the body)," the 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior said. "I really had to work on using more hips and legs more than just using my arm.
"It (made pitching) so much easier. I was able to throw longer in games. My overall goal every game I went out there was to throw the whole game."
That was a goal he accomplished six times in his 11 starts this season, matching fellow senior and Georgia Tech-signee Jake Burnette for the Buford team lead in complete games.
But while the improved mechanics and conditioning, plus presence of other quality starters on a deep Wolves staff like Burnette and juniors Sam Clay and Avery Labuz, helped with Heddinger's stamina, it did leave him susceptible to mound rust.
That was especially the case during the playoffs, when coach Tony Wolfe stuck to a strict rotation that often left one pitcher not throwing in a series after Buford swept through the first four rounds.
However, that is where another one of Heddinger's advantages came in.
Wolfe points to the experience Heddinger got playing with Junior Team Georgia, Team Elite and various showcase camps for becoming mentally tougher and better able to deal with factors like occasional idleness.
"Josh definitely had a great summer," Wolfe said in an interview earlier this season. "There was definitely more of a sense of urgency (this season)."
That sense of urgency came in handy when Buford needed it from him the most.
After being forced into a third and deciding game for the first time in the postseason by Pike County in the championship series, Heddinger came out with one of his most impressive outing, throwing a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts as the Wolves claimed the title with a 5-1 victory.
"I actually think Jake had (it tougher in his Game 2) start because we were already down one game (for the first time in the playoffs)," Heddinger said. "Having that Sunday off (before Game 3), I think, really cleared everybody's head and made us come back a lot stronger, which made me think of it as another game. I didn't think of it as a Game 3. I just thought of it as just another start."
Heddinger is taking the same approach to what lies ahead for him as he heads off to Georgia Tech in the fall.
Yes, he could spend time dwelling on whether his future with the Yellow Jackets lies on the mound or as a position player -- he hit .378 with five home runs and 32 RBIs and played effective third base when he wasn't pitching this season.
He could also worry about whether his friend and teammate Burnette will join him at Tech, or whether he will have to face college life on his own after Burnette was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh round of last week's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Instead, Heddinger says he will just try to enjoy the experience and focus on making the most of his opportunity to play for one of the top collegiate programs in the nation.
"I'm just going to down there and show them what I have and what I can do and just work," Heddinger said. "I'm going to a school I've wanted to go to since I was 9 years old. I get to go play college baseball, which many players can't say. And we'll see what happens down the road."