WESTBROOK – Batters fear him, opposing pitchers wince as he steps into the box, and coaches struggle to game plan for him. There’s an almost an aura of inevitability that surrounds him – a channeled, decisive strength, honed by experience into a weapon.

When you face Westbrook’s Scott Heath, it’s like staring down a force of nature.

And you need to be prepared to reap the whirlwind.

So it seemed like almost an afterthought to most of the league that Heath would be a shoe-in for the Maine Gatorade High School Player of the Year award for 2011. With a .390 batting average, 41 strikeouts over 32 innings pitched, a 5-0 record and a staggering 0.00 ERA, Heath was the most capable all-around player that Maine has seen in years, and a fearsome gunslinger whenever he took the mound. To the surprise of no one, Heath received the news on June 1 that he had won the award.

“I wasn’t quite surprised, but I was definitely excited,” Heath, who has committed to the University of Maine, said. “I know the hard work is paying off now. It’s quite an honor to win that kind of an award.”

“I really believe he is the best player in the state,” added Westbrook Head Coach Mike Rutherford. “After throwing 32 innings with no runs and batting almost .400, there was nobody in state who was as dominant as him.”

But it turned out to be the lone piece of good news in an emotional rollercoaster of a week for Heath. The trouble started when Westbrook took on Cheverus for the top seed in Class A West in the season finale on May 31. Heath walked a batter during the second inning and then left the mound after informing Rutherford that he felt pain in his throwing arm.

“I wasn’t sure what was wrong,” Heath said. “There wasn’t a pop or anything. I just went out and threw a pitch and just knew something didn’t feel right. I tried to finish the batter, but it was painful throwing. I knew right then that something wasn’t working.”

Westbrook went on to lose the game 6-2, and in the process missed out on first place. The news got much worse later.

Heath has since learned that he has a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) – an injury that almost always requires Tommy John surgery to repair.

Also known as an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, Tommy John surgery is a procedure where the UCL is replaced with a tendon taken from somewhere else in the body, generally the forearm, hamstring, knee or foot of the patient. The procedure was named after Major League pitcher Tommy John, who was the first professional athlete to undergo the procedure in 1974.

Although recovery rates for the surgery are close to 100 percent (with some pitchers even gaining power as a result), the torn ligament has brought an abrupt end to Heath’s high school pitching career at a crucial time for the Blazes. It will also likely cost him his first year of throwing for the Black Bears at UMaine should the initial diagnosis hold up.

“I have a doctor’s appointment (Wednesday) to confirm it, but I have a tear in my UCL, so I won’t be pitching at all in playoffs,” Heath said. “I’ll see what my doctor says, and I’ll do whatever I can to get back next season to play UMaine baseball, but it is looking like that (Tommy John) is what it is going to be. There is nothing set in stone yet, though.”

The final decision will rest with Heath, his doctor, and the UMaine coaching staff. In the meantime, Heath can DH for the Blazes, and may even be able to play outfield. But he will never take the mound again for Westbrook.

“He is definitely not going to be able to throw again for the year,” Rutherford said. “With a tear in his UCL, it looks like there’s a good chance he will need Tommy John (surgery), and that takes a year for recovery. He’s pretty bummed out over it, but he can still hit in the playoffs. He will DH when Sean Murphy pitches, and when Sean doesn’t pitch, he might have to play the outfield. We’ll just be careful how much he throws, but he will definitely be in the lineup.”

For his own part, Heath is his typical cool and collected self with regards to his immediate future. For him, there is no sense dwelling on something he cannot change, and he is eager to do whatever he can to assist his team against Biddeford as the team opens the playoffs on Thursday.

Westbrook (14-2) will look to avenge their upset loss to the Tigers in the Western finals in 2010. This time they’ll try to knock Biddeford (10-6) out in the first round, and Heath will do his best to light up the opposing pitching staff, even if he can’t simultaneously demoralize their batting order. Because even injured, it’s difficult to discount a crusader like Scott Heath.

“We’re not taking anyone lightly,” he said. “It’s in the back of our minds right now that they beat us last year, and we know anything can happen. We’re going to rely on both Sean and Matt (Weimer) on the mound to come in and give us solid outings. They both always give us a chance to win, and they’re really good pitchers. It’ll really come down to us swinging the bats.”

Additional material by Sports Editor Mike Higgins.

After dominating Class A West this season, Westbrook’s Scott Heath was named the Gatorade Maine High School player of the year. However, an elbow injury will keep Heath off the mound for the Blazes in the playoffs. (File photo

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