CARY, N.C. – The dust from the monumental and historical dog pile celebrating St. Mary’s regional title victory has settled, but the determination and heart that rippled through the pitching staff that clinched the honor has remained constant as they are called to do it all over again.
Muscling the mound last weekend in Warrensburg, Mo., was St. Mary’s stellar pitching staff that saw itself reusing exhausted starting pitchers and new rotations as the only way to seal the regional title and first national-championship trip since 2001.
But as dog-tired and drained as they were, the Rattlers’ pitching staff jumped at the chance to help their team to the championship.
With the season hanging in the balance in a winner-take-all regional championship game, starters Carl O’Neal, Rene Solis and Skye Severns all headed to the bullpen to warm up after receiving the “All hands on deck” call from pitching coach Chris Ermis.
“Come playoff time it’s pretty much all hands on deck,” says Severns (Sr., Claremont, Calif.), who pitched his first complete game in the regional tournament in the victory over conference rival St. Edward’s to help advance the Rattlers (48-9) into the NCAA Division II College World Series, which begins today. “We were ready. When it’s win or go home you’re going to do anything for the team.”
After falling to the No. 1 seeded Central Missouri in the first championship game, going into the ‘if’ game threw a sense of uncertainty on the hill as all stops from the bullpen were pulled as their four-pitching rotation, including its relief arms and closers, had been cycled in the games prior.
Starting for the first time on the year, Kyle Bumpas (So., El Paso, Texas) relied on his want for a shot the national title to remain steady in the all-or-nothing Game Five of the regional tournament.
“Coach (Chris Ermis) came up to me and he was really confident about starting me,” says Bumpas, who also relieved in the opening tournament game. “I had faith in my team and I was confident. I worked hard all year and I hadn’t had one start. But I was confident in the situation so I was just glad to do what I could for as long as I could.”
Four innings later, another rarity for the Rattlers as well as in the game of baseball occurred as O’Neal (Jr., San Antonio), the team’s No. 1 pitcher, stepped on the rubber in relief on less than three days rest. With the same fire as Bumpas, however, O’Neal charged with the drive for a further-extended season.
“We had plenty of guys stepping up,” says O’Neal, who pitched seven innings in Game One. “And we did big things in the regionals.”
Alongside O’Neal’s unrested arm was Solis (So., San Antonio), a fellow starting pitcher who tossed eight innings two days before the season-deciding game, and Severns, whose complete game finished the day before. Despite the mind-bending the fatigue, all three starters were geared to represent their team for possibly the last time in the hopes of advancing into history at the national tournament.
“A lot of us were sore, a lot of us were tired,” says Solis, who reached 100 strikeouts for the season in the quarterfinal round of the tournament. “But as soon as coach said, ‘All hands on deck,’ we all got our spikes on and we were all getting ready to go. The words we use are, ‘We just wanna rage.’ We are off the walls excited, I just can’t describe it.”
Four arms later, there was still Jonathan Perez (Jr., San Antonio). Two appearances later, Perez’s time on the mound was just as unorthodox as the rest of the staff’s, as the closer came in relief earlier than usual en route to picking up the win in an uncommon 3.2 innings pitched. But again taking after his counterparts, the all hands on deck mentality expelled by Ermis rang past the sweat and into the heart of Perez.
“It was definitely something different that we hadn’t done,” says Perez, whose two saves tied him for the most in the nation with 18. “Coming into this game we really didn’t have pitching so we basically had to piece the game together. We trained ourselves to constantly fight and it was a constant grind.”
After the embraces, cheers and tears subsided in the celebration of the regional title, the Rattlers had to quickly get back to business for the biggest games of their college careers: the national tournament. A speedy turnaround for the national race a week after clinching the regional crown may give the Rattlers an unexpected advantage as they’ve already done it once.
“We’re pumped,” says O’Neal of the national tournament. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience right here.”
St. Mary’s begins its trek to the national championship game Sunday against Delta State University at the USA Baseball National Training Complex at 4 p.m. (CDT) in Cary, N.C.