Dominic Neff could not stop smiling. The Trinity High School junior was still breathing heavily as he held his bat in his hands.
Just moments earlier, one swing of that bat sent the Hillers’ baseball team home a winner. After trailing by three runs, Trinity stormed back with a three-run sixth inning to tie the game. Neff, who tossed two scoreless innings, stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with a runner on first and no outs.
Wheeling Park pitcher Michael Grove tried sneaking a fastball past Neff on the first pitch, but the junior ripped the ball down the left-field line, where it hit the fence and scored the winning run to give Trinity a 6-5 victory Saturday night in the Consol Energy Classic.
When Neff tapped his bat on the plate and got in his stance before that pitch was delivered, one thought crossed his mind: “Hit the ball.”
“I just didn’t want to think about it, especially when I was pitching,” Neff said of the three-run deficit. “It gets you excited when you are down and come back like this. I thought it was over, but thank God we were only down by a couple runs.”
Wheeling Park took an early 3-0 when Grove hit an RBI-single and scored on an error. Patriots third baseman Zane Hummel added an RBI-single later in the inning off Trinity starting pitcher Garrett Briant.
The Patriots scored two more runs in the fourth inning on another error, but and the Hillers drew within 5-2 in the bottom of the fourth when a passed ball allowed first baseman Austin McDaniel to score from second.
It was the sixth inning when Trinity jumped back in the game. Grove walked four batters and McDaniel’s two-out single pulled the Hillers to within 5-4. Zach Cain scored on a wild pitch on the next at-bat to tie the score.
“We have been playing close games since the season began,” Trinity head coach Scott Henson said. “The kids are awesome. These kids work hard and they know that as long as they have one out left, we have a chance. We tightened up and the kids all did their jobs.”
Neff took the mound in the top of the seventh and gave up a lead-off walk, but he quickly cleared his mind of the situation. Focusing on only one batter at a time, the junior struck out the next three hitters to send the game to the bottom of the seventh tied at 5-5.
That’s when Neff stepped up to the plate and hit a ball off the top of the left-field fence to score Briant, who reached first base on a dropped ball by the first baseman.
“He’s been doing that all year,” Henson said of Neff. “He may not be a captain, but he’s definitely one of our leaders. He’s that type of kid. We’ve seen some great pitching but he was clutch tonight.”