Right-hander Ben Cannefax walked off the pitcher’s mound in tears.
It was hardly the reaction you’d expect from a senior who pitched a no-hitter for his first win of the season, but most high schoolers don’t have the purpose behind their fastball that Cannefax does. New Covenant Academy’s ace hurler hasn’t allowed a hit since his mother died of leukemia during the Warriors’ run through the playoffs in 2016.
Cannefax is 2-0 for the unbeaten Warriors of New Covenant (3-0). So far this season, he has pitched five innings of no-hit ball against Verona, and a seven-inning no-hitter against Pleasant Hope. While the 16-0 win at Verona brought Cannefax and his teammates to tears, Tuesday’s 8-0 home win over Pleasant Hope appeared colder and calculated. Had it not been for one walk and one hit batsman, Cannefax would be perfect on the season.
Help it or not, Cannefax became a different player when he lost his mother.
“It gives me an appreciation for just coming out here and playing a sport that I love. I know she’s watching over me,” Cannefax said.
Rae Ann Cannefax died May 25, 2016. Ben Cannefax served as New Covenant’s designated hitter that day in a 4-2 Class 1 playoff quarterfinal win over Hurley at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark. He was 0-for-1 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt.
Cannefax pinch hit six days later in a 5-0 playoff semifinal win over Northwest (Hughesville). He missed New Covenant’s 7-2 loss to Bell City in the state championship game in order to attend his mother’s funeral.
“My team brought me through that. They were just there for me 100 percent. That made it a lot better,” Cannefax said.
New Covenant’s players and coaches paid tribute to Rae Ann Cannefax by writing her name or initials on their caps. Warriors coach John Hartley still wears her name on his cap for every game. This season, Hartley has kept his discussions with Ben Cannefax centered on baseball.
“We don’t talk about it, because we know he knows. If it matters to him, it matters to us, and it does. It’s not a spoken thing, but boy it sure does bring a smile to your face to watch him perform this way,” Hartley said. “I know there are some angels happy.”
Cannefax is the oldest of five children in his family. He’s leaned on his teammates in tough moments.
“That just means the world to me. I can’t even explain it hardly. They’re just there. I know that I can come to them about anything,” Cannefax said.
He also leans on his teammates for an occasional bang-bang play at first base to keep his hitless streak of innings active.
“I think it’s just having a good team to back me up making those defensive plays, and ultimately I’m playing for God and playing for my mom,” Cannefax said.
Hartley noticed a change in Cannefax’s disposition on the diamond shortly after Rae Ann’s passing.
“(Cannefax) spent this offseason preparing. His body is in unbelievable shape. His mindset was spot-on that he was going to make this the year of his life and you can tell by his demeanor out there. He’s very aggressive and competitive, and he’s definitely doing this for a reason,” Hartley said.
New Covenant Academy has not allowed a hit in any of its 17 innings played this season. Ryan Carmack threw a five-inning no-hitter in a 16-0 win against Bradleyville sandwiched between Cannefax’s two starts. Hartley has been a baseball coach for more than 25 years, but can’t recall such a streak in his career.
“In a season, in five seasons, you’re lucky to have a no-hitter,” Hartley said.
Hartley attributes Cannefax’s hot start largely to the senior’s determination, but both Cannefax and Hartley will tell you some of the credit goes to senior catcher C.J. Fernelius. The Evangel University baseball signee has been New Covenant’s backstop since the Warriors launched their program in 2015.
“It really helps to have his buddy C.J. behind the plate. (Cannefax) and C.J. have been together now for three years, and they’re just of the same mindset. You notice there is no shaking off, and C.J. calls the game. We don’t,” Hartley said.
Fernelius, one of Cannefax’s close friends off the baseball field, noticed a change in Cannefax’s play.
“I think he’s been handling (the loss of his mother) very well. It obviously hasn’t affected his baseball performance at all, if not it made him better. He goes out there with such drive, and it’s been really great,” Fernelius said.
Cannefax appears dialed into his final season of high school baseball, but a chance to play in college seems plausible should he want to pursue it.
“I’m pretty confident that we’ll find a place for him to go,” Hartley said.
Cannefax is focused on leading the Warriors upward. New Covenant moved up from Class 1 to Class 2 baseball this season. Five of the Warriors’ starting nine are sophomores.
“We’re a young team right now, so we’ve got a lot of growing to do. We play some tough teams, but hopefully we’ll get some wins,” Cannefax said.