Saturday wasn’t the first time that Blake Loney had been at the bottom of a dogpile.
As is tradition in baseball, after a win that results in a championship — and the Henley baseball program has had its share in recent years — for the battery to meet hug before getting topped by the rest of the team.
That was scene at Rosser Field, Heith Rasica blazed a fastball past Hidden Valley’s Noah Stone for the final out of Henley’s 10-6 win in the second game, a couple of hours after shutting out the Mustangs 8-0 in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader to steal the Skyline Conference crown away from Hidden Valley.
“It hurts,” Loney said. “But it’s a good feeling. We’ve done it a couple times before but I think it means more being one of the senior leaders of the team. It’s a pretty good feeling knowing that we came out on top today.”
Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” says that every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.
Henley players were well aware of what was at stake. A split on Saturday wouldn’t cut it. The Hornets would need to win two.
At 8 a.m. Thursday, in Randall’s classroom multiple team leaders entered to have a chat with their coach before entering the final two regular season days of the year.
The message players relayed was simple and to the point: “we are going to have a great practice and we are going to sweep on Saturday.”
“Those boys made that happen Saturday night and that a tremendous about of maturity and tremendous leadership,” Randall said. “Today happened last Wednesday night.”
On a day when the Hornets needed it most, the team was able to fall back on its three pillars that has kept the Henley program among the state’s best spanning many years.
And they delivered.
Hanging on the bulletin board in the Hornet dugout is a photo of a toilet with “flush it” printed above it.
After Wednesday 3-1 loss, needed a plunger and perhaps a heavy dose of drain-o for the toilet to flush properly again. The Hornets sturk out 11 times that day and only managed six hits and one run — neither the run or any of the hits came with two outs.
“I didn’t have my best,” said Hayden Rasica, who struck out three times from his leadoff spot in the first game. “I was just wanting to come out and give it everything I had for the team today”
Saturday couldn’t have been more different. In the first game of the doubleheader, Skyler Howard, Jagger Graham, Cade Fanning, Andrew Reynolds and Heith Rasica all had two-out hits. The Hornets would also score four two-out runs with Graham, Fanning and Rasica driving in runs.
Similar story in the second game. In the fifth inning alone, Reynolds, Rasica and Loney all had consecutive two-out hits to push the lead to 10-2.
“That when the ultimate competitor comes out,” Randall said. “It’s mono a mono at that point and we just have boys who choose to be on the winning end of those one-on-one battles.”
Adjacent to the toilet sign is another sign: “You are either applying pressure or receiving it.”
Hidden Valley walked into a pressure cooker that it wasn’t ready for. Henley is a seasoned group with six seniors with who have been in big-time games since stepping foot into the programs as freshman. Hidden Valley has one.
In game one, the urgency, the competitiveness that a championship games bring wasn’t there for the youthful Mustangs. Hidden Valley coaches had to tell players to fix their body languages, none of that coming Henley dugout.
It was a moment the Hornets were ready for, the Mustangs weren’t. And they certainly weren’t ready for who they had to face on the mound.
Hayden Rasica was electric on the mound. Pitching in his final regular season game in a Hornets jersey, Rasica overpowered the Mustang bats striking out seven batters in seven complete innings allowing just two hits.
Even when he would walk a batter — he had four — or hit batter — he plunked two — he was able to get the strikeout or the groundout that he needed to keep the Mustangs off the board.
“Hayden has always been a competitor,” Loney said. “It’s been a honor catching him the last 10 years. That’s always been his mindset — the next pitch, the next pitch.”
Posted above the toilet photo, is yet another photo: “So what, next pitch.”
It was far from a clean game in the latter half of the doubleheader, after building an eight-run lead, the Hornets got a little lackadaisical in the field.
Of the six runs that the Mustangs scored, only one was earned. Henley committed eight errors in the field — a kiss of death in most championship-eque games.
Then there were the miscues that don’t count as errors: not getting the out when in a run-down situation or not touching first base trying to leg out a double.
Rarely, perhaps luckily, few of those errors ended up costing the Hornets.
“In pressure-packed baseball, playoff baseball, baseball where you are playing for a league title perfection is not going happen,” Randall said. “Generally the team that deals with the mistakes the best is the team that’s going to come out ahead.
“We let one bad play be one bad play.”
Twentyfour games in two months are completed and for the 23rd time since 1961 the Henley baseball team will add another year to the scoreboard in right-centerfield under “Conference Champions.”
It wasn’t easy and it came down to the final game of the season.
“Only people in the inner-circle know the type of adversity that this team has gone through,” “The people in the inner circle really appreciate days like this.”