Matt Searson wanted very badly to be the first starting pitcher to log a win at New Covenant Academy’s brand new baseball field.
The senior ace got his wish with four innings pitched, six strikeouts, two hits and one earned run allowed in New Covenant’s 14-1 win over Verona in Monday’s season opener, the first baseball game ever played at the brand new Federal Protection Field.
Searson also batted 2-for-3 with a double, a single and 3 RBI.
“Having your own place is a huge deal, so coming out and being able to play in front of our own home fans — that’s exciting,” Searson said.
Before he took the mound for the first inning, Searson served as the catcher for his father, New Covenant Academy Chief Academic Officer Matt Searson Sr. The elder Searson was one of five dignitaries to throw out ceremonial first pitches to commemorate the new ballpark.
The senior pitcher said his dad wanted him to imitate Darrell Porter’s leap into the arms of St. Louis Cardinals closer Bruce Sutter at the end of a famous 6-3 Cardinals win over Milwaukee that happened before Searson had been born.
“He wanted to reenact the ’82 Cardinals World Series win where I jump into his arms, but I told him I wasn’t going to jump all the way, but I would still run to him,” Searson said. “This field has been in the process for about eight years now, and we’ve been there though it all, so it’s pretty exciting to see it come true.”
After the first pitch, Searson settled down — sort of. He walked the first batter he faced.
“I looked up at the crowd and I was a little overwhelmed, so I wish I could have that first batter all over again,” Searson said.
New Covenant played its inaugural season of baseball last year, and only played on the road. Coach John Hartley noted the size of the standing room only crowd.
“That’s a playoff type crowd,” Hartley said. “I think when they first looked up and they saw that many people, it shocked their world a little bit. It took a while for them to get their feet back on the ground, and then we got things going.”
Senior third baseman Cody Malan, a move-in from Minnesota, logged the first base hit and the first two RBI at “the Fed,” with a double in the first inning. He then reached third base on a play to the plate.
Malan finished the game 2-for-3 at the plate with four RBI, and was happy to get the stadium-opening win.
“It was definitely good,” Malan said. “I’m sure you could tell we were all a little shaky with getting our throws over to first or whatever it was, but it’s definitely good getting this one out the way.”
Hartley tried not to add any pressure for his players to perform well, but the Warriors still had a tense first inning before Malan drove shortstop Ian Poe and catcher C.J. Fernelius home with his double.
“We didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want them to carry that kind of pressure, but there was not any doubt that they were a little tight at the beginning,” Hartley said. “A couple of weeks ago, when the field really came together, I would see them standing there just looking at it.”
Verona shortstop Caleb Hillhouse was 1-for-2 with a double, as watch freshman catcher Kolton Pinkly, who drove in Verona’s only RBI.
New Covenant Academy went 12-11 on the road in its inaugural 2015 baseball season. This year, the Warriors open the campaign ranked No. 6 in Class 1 in the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association poll and hope to finish well above .500.
“I think we’ve got the final four in our sights. We rank sixth in the state overall, but I think that’s going to get better. We’ve just got to work hard,” Searson said.
New Covenant Academy plays two more home games at Federal Protection Field this week. The Warriors host Niangua on Tuesday and Everton on Thursday with both games starting at 4:30 p.m.
They’ll try to keep their bats hot.
“It’s just fun to go out and hit. That’s the biggest part is having fun,” Malan said.