Verrado (Buckeye, Ariz.) heads into Thursday’s 5A state high school baseball semifinal game at Tempe Diablo Stadium with heavy hearts after junior pitcher Bryan McKinsey died on Wednesday.
On May 3, McKinsey, 17, struck out the side in the seventh inning for the save in a 5-4 win over Notre Dame (Scottsdale), sending the Vipers into the semifinals for the first time in school history.
Verrado faces Notre Dame again on Thursday at 4 p.m. in the double-elimination tournament.
News about McKinsey’s death broke on Twitter on Wednesday by Viper Baseball:
“Viper family is deeply saddened today by the passing of our friend teammate, brother Bryan Mckinsey. Please join us in thoughts and prayers for the McKinsey family and his Verrado family and teammates. We love you Bryan, you are deeply missed and will always be in our hearts! #6”
Dennis Runyan, superintendent of the Agua Fria Union High School District, said in an email Thursday morning that the parents have not given him authority to discuss McKinsey’s death.
“I can share that additional counseling and support services are being made available at the school,” Runyan wrote. “This event has been extremely difficult for the players, coaches, and the school. As you know the team is currently in a deep playoff run this season so this event is tragically difficult for everyone. Our hearts and prayers are with the family this morning.”
Verrado coach Mike Ward said he found out about McKinsey’s death late Wednesday afternoon. The team voted to go ahead and play Thursday’s game, he said.
“Right now we need to stay together for one another,” Ward said. “These boys need one another. They need the coaching staff to get behind them. They need to come together for 2 1/2 hours, get away from reality, free themselves from the pain and anguish and do something he loved and enjoyed. Hopefully, we get a W and then revisit this pain we’re going through.”
A win would move the Vipers into next Tuesday’s championship game at Diablo Stadium.
Ward said that McKinsey began the season as a starter but moved into the closer’s role late in the season.
“He got our last out,” Ward said. “He lived for that moment.
“We’re never going to make it go away but we want to help ease the pain the family is going through. He’s a great kid, well-liked, loved life. He lived for the game. It was a getaway from everything.”
On May 3, after Verrado’s win over Notre Dame, McKinsey posted on Twitter a video clip of him recording the last out and wrote, “2 more baby.”