- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Afterward no one wanted to leave the field. The parents brought sandwiches and sodas and chips. Unable to stomach food before or immediately after the funeral, the hungry players scarfed it down. All around were the trappings of the day: the white rose that was on the mound before the game, the remnants of the spray-painted 2 and 6 next to it, the signs and flowers on the fence, the string from the 80 blue and white helium balloons that parents sent into the sky during a pregame moment of silence. All afternoon people approached and hugged Chad Colliflower, including players, something he never expected from 16- and 17-year-old boys, who usually find it so hard to hug another man. He saw people he hadn't seen in 20 years and old, red-nosed guys he'd seen only down on the corner but who were suddenly wearing Williamsport blue. Chad later said, "I never felt so much love in my life."
Before the game many of the boys had worried that they shouldn't be playing. Now something flipped inside them. Zach had a feeling of empowerment—he was now in control. As for Warrenfeltz, he called his father that night and said of his team, "I just want more time to be together, that's all."
He knew that was unlikely, though. The Wildcats were slated to play again in two days, and Warrenfeltz had seen the brackets.
On Monday it rained, granting Williamsport a one-day reprieve. Tuesday brought no such luck. At 1:30 p.m. the Wildcats piled onto the bus, bound for Liberty. The top seed in the West region, Liberty boasted the best pitcher in Class 2A, Andrew Massey, whose arsenal included an 88-mph fastball and a devastating 83-mph cutter. This should have been the big showdown: Colliflower versus Massey. Now the Wildcats would be hard-pressed to keep it close.
For two seasons Warrenfeltz had relied on his ace in big games. Now he had to make a choice. There was Tyler Byers, the headstrong, wiseass country boy who threw exclusively fastballs, which wasn't such a bad thing considering they arrived at 87 mph. Unfortunately, Tyler had taken a line drive on the ankle while pitching two weeks earlier. Assistant coach Kyle Lewis suspected the ankle was fractured, but there was no way Tyler's father, Mick, a demanding but loving man who put baseball right after God and country, was taking him to the doctor and no way Tyler would have gone. In the meantime Warrenfeltz had moved Tyler from first base to DH to keep his bat in the lineup.
That left Warrenfeltz with one option: He needed Zach to take the mound. Zach was a hitter first, a pitcher by necessity. For the season he had a 4.68 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings. He possessed neither a great fastball nor much of a curve.
What Zach did have was desire. The oldest son of a nurse and a cable-company engineer, he had been shy and chubby as an underclassman, but the summer after his sophomore year he began lifting weights. Week by week he added muscle to his 5'9", 180-pound frame, becoming more confident. As a junior he set the team single-season record for RBIs. He also began spending more time with Brendon. The two were in some ways opposites, Zach struggling with his weight while the rail-thin Brendon went to the Waffle House and ordered a sausage-and-egg cheese wrap with a waffle, a side of sausage, a side of bacon and hash browns. Yet they were, as Lewis says, "the same kind of weird." Everything between them was an inside joke. But when Brendon took the mound, all that changed; out there he had a swagger, and the Wildcats fed off that confidence.
Now it fell to Zach to lead. So as he walked out to the mound against Liberty, he tried to act self-assured as Brendon always had, even if he knew he was overmatched. The afternoon before, Warrenfeltz had told the players what to expect emotionally. "All we are is a baseball team," he said. "We can't make this situation right. All we can do is make the best of what we can do."
That was going to be hard against Massey. He retired the side in order in the first, struck out the side in the second and went 1-2-3 in the third. Meanwhile Liberty touched Zach for two runs. Usually a 2--0 lead didn't seem insurmountable, but with Massey on the mound, it did.
Then, in the top of the fourth inning, Tyler Nally got lucky. Or maybe Massey made a bad pitch. Either way the ball shot up the middle for a single. And, just like that, it began: a Liberty error; then Zach crushed a double to make it 2--1; an inning later Williamsport added three more runs, then another in the sixth to make it 5--3.