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The pitch, a curveball, was difficult to judge. By the time it got to the plate, Tyler was two thirds of the way home. If Brandon popped it up, it would be a sure double play. Had he missed it, Martin would have been out by a good 10 feet.
None of that mattered, though, because Brandon plopped a beautiful blooping bunt in front of the plate. The Patuxent pitcher dived, trying to use his glove to flip the ball to the catcher, but by then Tyler was sliding into home face-first, the dust billowing up like stirred ash.
There is a grainy video of what followed, captured by a Williamsport parent on a cellphone. In a split second the ballpark is engulfed by a deafening roar. Boys in blue fly out of the dugout, leap past the still-prone Patuxent pitcher and dog-pile Brandon at first base, some yelling and crying at the same time.
Warrenfeltz tried to keep his emotions in check, to act like an authority figure. Then, seeing those boys streaming across the field, he thought, Aw, screw it. And thus on the video you see a taller, older figure fly into the picture and leap on top of the dog pile, grinning maniacally. In that moment Warrenfeltz didn't care how it looked: He just wanted to be with his team.
The next 15 minutes remain hazy. Warrenfeltz remembers Tyler Byers pointing to the sky. He remembers the fans screaming as if they were 5,000 strong. He remembers thinking about Nick and Brendon and how each would have savored this moment, Williamsport's first title in 37 years. He remembers the security guards, who'd gathered to prevent the fans from storming the field but allowed Brendon's grandfather John to pass through so that one by one the Williamsport players embraced him, none harder or longer than Zach, who cradled his head against the older man's shoulder, both of them crying.
Warrenfeltz will always treasure the hours that followed: How the team rode back to Williamsport celebrating the whole way and stopped just off the I-81 exit to climb aboard one of the town's three yellow fire trucks and parade through town, followed by police trucks and a caravan of honking cars. How they looped the long way, past the Waffle House with its sign that read, 2012 STATE CHAMPS!!! GO WILDCATS BASEBALL 4 YOU NO. 6. How the team stopped at the cemetery for a moment of silence with hats off. And how the bus ended up back at the school, where 166 white plastic cups had been jammed into the fence of the football field nearly three weeks earlier. The word they spelled was HOPE.
Life goes on, yet part of it remains behind.
By late July, Warrenfeltz wasn't seeing the seniors as often. Zach was getting ready to head to Salisbury College, where Brendon had been slated to be his roommate. Four other Wildcats would also play college ball. When Warrenfeltz did see the boys, they reveled in putting in a dip in front of their old coach, just because they could. They were young men now, asserting their independence. Zach Lucas and Tyler Byers had let their hair grow, so that it curled up and around their blue Williamsport hats like flames licking a log.
In most ways they remained the same kids they had been, fishing and making crude jokes, but in deeper ways they had changed. Most days they wore their championship shirts, just as they would wear the championship rings that were being made, the ones that would read IN MEMORY OF B6C on the side. Even now the seniors remain in awe of what happened—how it seemed meant to be. How else to explain all the eerie coincidences? Like the fact that Sam's number was 2 and Brendon's was 6 and the team won the state championship on May 26 on two runs and six hits. Or the fact that Brandon Toloso, who dropped down the winning bunt, was number 2, the charter bus that day was number 426 and the Wildcats won six straight games in the playoffs. Or that the rainbow around the sun at Brendon's funeral had reappeared that day against Wheaton, just before the first pitch. Nor did they know what to make of the eeriest coincidence—that the last time Williamsport won the state title, in 1975, one of the team's best players, Mick Myers, had died earlier that year. In an auto accident.
Talk to the boys, the parents and the assistant coaches, and they would tell you that it was Warrenfeltz who made this happen. "He was the rock, the foundation," said Gary Nally, Tyler's father.