published Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Duo setting pace for playoff-bound Northwest Whitfield Bruins

Northwest Whitfield third baseman Edwin Hernandez tags out Heritage runner Damian Goins during their Region 7B-AAAA game on March 26 at Tunnel Hill, Ga. Hernandez is batting .393 with 33 runs scored.
Northwest Whitfield third baseman Edwin Hernandez tags out Heritage runner Damian Goins during their Region 7B-AAAA game on March 26 at Tunnel Hill, Ga. Hernandez is batting .393 with 33 runs scored.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
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    Northwest Whitfield’s Diego Peralta (7) hits one into the outfield early this season. He’s batting .468 with 26 RBIs.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

TUNNEL HILL, Ga. — Diego Peralta and Edwin Hernandez are, in many ways, typical American teenagers with a love for the sport they grew up on.

See their names, however, and you might jump to the conclusion that the Hispanic-Americans are making their moves on the soccer pitch. However, it's another kind of pitch these two Northwest Whitfield High School athletes are into -- the kind thrown 60 feet, 6 inches and usually hit very, very hard.

Peralta and Hernandez, the Bruins' shortstop and third baseman, respectively, don't see themselves as bucking any kind of stereotype. To them, like most of their teammates, baseball has been their passion since T-ball, where they started out as rivals.

"I met Eddie when we were in T-ball, and he was always the best player on the other team," Peralta said. "When we started playing travel ball, we joined the same team and have been together ever since."

And quite the duo they are. Peralta, a senior who bats third, leads the Bruins with a .468 average and has scored 27 runs, knocked in 26 and hit three home rus. Hernandez, a junior, is hitting .393 as the team's cleanup hitter and has scored 33 runs with four homers, six doubles and 18 RBIs. They are a big part of a Northwest team that enters this week's Region 7-AAAA championship series at 18-4.

"They both started since they were freshmen, and the last two years they've been in the middle of the order," Northwest coach Todd Middleton said. "With those two and Seth Pierce, teams can't pitch around us. Those two seem to make things happen for us, including several times when we had two outs."

Peralta has hit so well, in fact, that he's taken quite a few RBIs away from his friend, though he's quick to point out that teams have made a habit of not wanting to pitch to the all-star slugger.

"I always used to hit leadoff with nobody on, but now hitting third and with Eddie hitting behind me I know I'm going to get good pitches to hit and I can drive a lot of people in," Peralta said. "It's trouble for other teams when we have guys on base and it gets to the middle of the order."

Middleton says the pair's knowledge of the game is a key to their success. Not only did they start playing at an early age, but they grew up watching the tough competition in the Dalton Hispanic League. Hernandez' father, Rufino, was starring for the league's top team, the Tigers, when the two boys were just starting to play.

"My dad teaches us a lot," Hernandez said. "He and his dad learned the game in Mexico, and they've always played it. I owe a lot of what I know about the game to my dad. Baseball has always been in my family, and it's what we love to do."

As the Bruins try to defend their region title in a three-game series at Cedartown beginning today, they enter the postseason, according to Peralta, as a different team from the one that lost in the GHSA second round last year.

"Nobody is trying to do too much by themselves this year," he said. "It's a team effort. We're the Bruins, we don't win just because of Edwin or me or any one person. We know now that if somebody needs a lift the other guys will do it. The other thing is this year we don't lay down when teams jump on us early. Last year we would have gone into the dugout with our heads down, but this year, just like we did against Dalton and Southeast, if they punch us in the mouth early we just punch them back.

"We've got a lot of confidence right now, and I think that will help us in the playoffs."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6296.

about Lindsey Young...

Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...

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