While the position players warmed up, Zach sat in the dugout, icing his left arm. He was the kid who didn't stretch, who needed only three warmup pitches. Now, however, Zach's shoulder and elbow were rebelling. He'd loaded up on four ibuprofen, swabbed on Icy Hot and taken herbal medicine. His arm still shook involuntarily, but he didn't care. Besides, his friend Tyler Byers was playing on an ankle that was so badly busted that Warrenfeltz had told him to not run out ground balls. Ryan Butts had recently shaken off the lingering effects of a concussion suffered during a home plate collision late in the season. And, somewhere up there, Brendon was watching him. Zach was damned if he was going to give up the ball.
Warrenfeltz saw a look of resolve on Zach's face that he'd never seen before. "How do you feel?" the coach asked.
"Horrible," Zach said, "but I'm not coming out until my five innings are up."
An hour later, when the boys took the field, Zach looked up at the stands and saw only blue and white. There was the Colliflower family and Ryan Butts's father and the regulars, all having driven two hours. But there were so many more: face-painted students wearing blue wigs, a line of girls with W-I-L-D-C-A-T-S on their bellies, a guy in a Nick Adenhart jersey and old men he'd seen only down at Tony's Pizzeria in Williamsport. Then there were the signs: WILDCAT PRIDE and WIN FOR BRENDON #6. Zach had never played in a ballpark like this. He had one thought: Brendon would have loved this.
The first Patuxent batter stepped in, and Warrenfeltz held his breath. He had no idea whether Zach had anything left in the tank. When the first pitch rocketed in, dangerously high but as hard as he'd thrown all season, Warrenfeltz had a different thought: Maybe he's too pumped up. Then, on the next pitch, Zach floated a beautiful curveball. The Patuxent batter swung right through it, as if flailing at smoke. Warrenfeltz exhaled.
The game remained scoreless for two innings. Then, in the bottom of the third, Brandon Toloso ripped a sinking shot over the Patuxent first baseman's head for a double. A bunt moved Brandon to third, and then Tyler Nally, a skinny, determined senior whose father played on the Williamsport team that won the title in 1975, cracked one through the left side. One-zip, Wildcats.
Meanwhile Zach was throwing 2 to 3 mph harder than he had all season. "It was," assistant Doug Stottlemyer later said, "like Brendon was living through him." Even so, Zach was running on fumes. The Wildcats needed a cushion.
In the bottom of the fourth Zach appeared to give it to them when he crushed a ball to deep center. In any other Class 2A park it would have been a home run. But in spacious Ripken Field the centerfielder just kept backing up and finally caught the ball in front of the 404 sign. Then, in the fifth, the Wildcats failed to bring home a runner from third for the second time in the game. Two innings later, with Williamsport still holding a 1--0 lead, it came down to this: Three outs and the Wildcats were state champions.
On the mound to close it out stood Tyler Byers, who'd come in for Zach in the sixth. As a power pitcher, he was well suited to closing. As a near cripple, he was not well suited to playing defense. The day before, Lewis had asked Warrenfeltz what he planned to do if teams saw they could bunt on Tyler. Said Warrenfeltz, "Let's hope they don't."
The first Patuxent batter singled, and everyone on the Williamsport bench knew what was coming next: small ball. Lewis again walked over to Warrenfeltz. "You want someone to start warming up in the pen?"