On Monday night, the New Covenant Academy baseball team secured a convincing 14-1 season-opening victory over the Verona Wildcats, but the final score was the furthest thing from anyone's mind as the Warriors walked off the diamond after their win.
That's because there was something far, far more special to celebrate – the birth of a baseball domain that NCA could finally call its own.
One year after their inaugural season – a season in which they played every game on the road due to the lack of a home field — the Warriors played their first game on their brand new digs, Federal Protection Field, in front of a sea of friends, family and alumni who couldn't be more excited to witness the unveiling of a facility that will also be community-used.
“This is obviously what we consider to be a jewel for Springfield and the community,” New Covenant head coach John Hartley said about his team's new home. “Today was obviously a very beautiful day and it was a good day for everybody.”
Hartley, who was instrumental in helping form the baseball program in 2015, was happier than anyone to see the concept of an on-campus stadium become a reality, considering it took seven years to reach the ultimate goal of developing a team – along with its own place to play – at New Covenant.
“It took forever to get started, it felt like,” Hartley said. “They hired me two years ago, but it felt like forever to get this thing going. It has actually come together in the last five months.”
Before the game, local dignitaries were on hand for a ribbon-cutting and ceremonial first pitch – adding an even higher level of relevance to an already historic day.
Given the proceedings that were talking place in front of a standing-room-only crowd, Hartley was hesitant in putting any additional pressure on his players by suggesting this was a game they needed to win.
“We didn't talk about it because I just didn't want them to carry that kind of pressure,” said Hartley. “There's not any doubt that they were a little tight at the beginning while they were in front of four or five-hundred people.
Perhaps nobody was caught in awe of the surroundings as much as starting pitcher Matt Searson who, at 4:33 p.m., threw the game's first pitch – a fastball in the dirt that skipped to the backstop.
“When I got on the mound I was fine, but when I looked up and saw all the people, I'm like 'this is a bigger deal than I thought,'” Searson said.
Despite his early-game jitters, the senior hurler quickly settled into a rhythm and wound up allowing just one run on two hits over five innings of work.
After the game, Searson attributed his ability to settle down and throw strikes to one simple function – breathing.
“A big part of pitching is breathing,” Searson said. “A lot of times I take it in and just settle in, and that just comes from taking deep breaths, relaxing and knowing that it's just you and the catcher out there. That's the only thing that matters.”
Senior third baseman Cody Malan earned the first hit and RBI on the new field with a two-run double to put the Warriors up 2-0 in the first inning – part of a 2-for-3, 4-RBI performance at the dish.
“Getting the first RBIs on the field, that's gonna feel good,” said Malan. “Everyone was like 'somebody's got to hit a home run,' but it was just good getting out there and getting a hit.”
The Warriors would score eight runs in the fourth frame to help turn away Verona via the mercy rule.
New Covenant is back on its own field on Tuesday when it faces Niangua, while Verona hosts McAuley Catholic next Monday.