The drama that unfolded at Lancaster's baseball game last week extended way beyond the team's 2-1, come-from-behind win over Niagara Falls for the Section VI Class AA championship.
Junior Mac Garby, who all season has maintained a habit of wearing his baseball pants with the back pocket pulled out, was also wearing his heart on his sleeve.
The reserve outfielder had to leave the game in the bottom of the fourth inning, with his team trailing 1-0, after receiving word that his grandfather was gravely ill at Hospice Buffalo, and if he wanted to be by his side, the time was now.
"I told him Grandpa has been very strong up until now, it's your call, and he said I want to go," said Garby's father, Dave.
In a spontaneous gesture of support, Lancaster's players all pulled the back pocket out of their baseball uniforms as Garby and his father raced for the car. The frantic drive to the facility in Cheektowaga was interrupted by a text from a friend at the game saying Lancaster had just tied the game, 1-1, in the sixth.
Not long after came a second text -- Lancaster scored a run in the seventh to pull out a 2-1 win.
"It's an incredible story, I get a little emotional thinking about it," said Lancaster coach Mark Dalfonso, now in his sixth season. "Mac told me a couple weeks prior he might have to leave at any time, and doesn't it happen when we're playing our game? He said, 'I gotta go,' I gave him a hug and he left. Right after that we tie the game up. The next inning, still with our pockets out, we end up plating the winning run."
Garby and his father arrived at hospice just in time to share the good news about the game's outcome with his grandfather, but it wasn't long afterward that Carl V. McGovern of Blasdell died peacefully, surrounded by family.
Garby received a final text that day from the team. It included a photo of the Redskins, but it wasn't your typical team photo. The players' backs were to the camera with their back pockets hanging out.
Garby had another reason to cry.
"I was in tears, getting those text messages meant a lot," said Garby, whose middle name is Carl. "I've never been on a team like this where the character is so hard, and we're so close. Everyone is like a brother on the team, and we all love each other."
After the win over Niagara Falls, Dalfonso brought the team together in the outfield for a postgame talk. The coach was nearly at a loss for words, but left-handed pitcher Ted Wilson was not.
"I just want to thank you guys because you have been making plays behind me all season," Wilson said.
"What do say after that?" said Dalfonso. "That's the way these kids are."
The Redskins earned a share of their first ECIC I title since 2003 and now have a section title to add to the ones they captured in 2000, 1996, 1979 and 1959.
Wilson is having a career year after missing all of last season with a fractured back. His 4-0 record includes two wins over Frontier.
The Redskins take a 17-3 record and an 11-game winning streak into tonight's Class AA Far West Regional game, where they will face defending state champion Victor. First pitch at Batavia's Dwyer Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Lancaster's probable starter is freshman Joe Preziuso, whose last start was a win over Clarence. Sophomore outfielder/pitcher Ryan Stekl batted .523 in 14 leagues games, and got the win in relief against Niagara Falls. Senior catcher Tyler Hoffhines has been a big piece of the infield and has had his share of timely hits.
In ECIC I play, the defense turned 22 doubles plays with Jim Krolkowski at second, Ben Haefner at shortstop and Corey Fohrd at first base. The Redskins are one of five teams playing this week against the champions from Section V. The winners advance to the state final four this weekend. Elsewhere:
*CLASS A: Grand Island looks to make its first trip to states since 2009 when it plays Honeoye Falls-Lima at Sal Maglie Field at 5 p.m. The Vikings scouted their opponents Saturday.
"They're a good, solid ball club, they don't make too many defensive mistakes," said Vikings coach Dean Santorio. "Their pitcher that day was their No. 1, and he threw a complete game. I can't imagine him being ready. That will kind of be a benefit to us."
Grand Island will likely go with a combination of left-handed senior Dylan Kelly and senior righty A.J. Jasek. Sophomore Quinn Corrao, who has been on varsity all year, will be ready as well. Leading GI at the plate have been Jon Voyzey (.530 in the league), Kelly (.388) and John McGinty (.360).
*CLASS B: Fredonia (18-5) awaits the winner of today's Aquinas/Wayland Cohocton winner. They will meet on Wednesday at Dwyer Stadium. The Hillbillies' Section VI title was their second straight and fifth in eight years. They knocked off rival Dunkirk in the final.
"We were excited to have another game. Dunkirk is a heated rivalry. It goes down to the last inning every game. We're happy to be playing a different opponent," said coach Vince Gullo.
The rotation is set. The Hillbillies will start CCIAC I Pitcher of the Year Trent Thompson (6-1). No. 2 Weston Ley pitched a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts in his last start against Roy-Hart. Catcher Zack Buckey is hitting .528.
*CLASS C: To say Frewsburg's Thad Johnson is on a tear would be an understatement. According to the NYSPHSAA website, the senior pitcher/catcher broke the state record for career hits. He goes into today's game against Lyons at Hornell with 196 over his 5 1/2 -year varsity career. Five of his last seven hits have gone for extra bases. The previous record of 188 was held since 2008 by Adam Cutspec of Fort Plain.
Frewsburg (19-4) has won 18 of its last 19. The Section VI title was its sixth straight. Senior Connor Grey gets the start tonight. He's coming off a 16-strikeout performance in the sectional final against Westfield.
*CLASS D: Pine Valley (15-5) looks for more after winning its third Section VI title in a row. The Panthers will play on Wednesday against today's winner between Arkport and Webster Christian. The team made back-to-back trips to the state final four in 2006 and 2007.
They've been led on the mound all season by Lyle Howard, Tyler Swanson and Zack Fancher. The catching spot was one of the biggest holes Pine Valley had to fill this year and Chris Buczek said Joey Gierszewski has been masterful. "What makes a good pitcher is a good catcher and I think all our pitchers have benefited from having him behind the plate," said Buczek.