On the first pitch Thursday, junior left-hander Rocky King threw the ball to home side-arm style, the same method Bryan McKinsey used so effectively in relief.
Adrenaline kicked in and King gutted out four innings before coming out with a big lead in No. 2-seed Buckeye Verrado’s 13-3, run-ruled, five-inning 5A baseball state semifinal win over Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
In the other 5A game on Thursday, Peoria Liberty beat Gilbert Mesquite 4-3 to advance, setting up an all-West Valley 5A final on Tuesday.
Emotions spilled over as tears ran down his face and his coach hugged him. He was greeted with hugs from every coach, every team member – all wearing McKinsey’s No. 6 patched on their sleeves – on his way to the dugout.
“First pitch, I wanted to drop down and throw side-arm just to honor him,” King said. “I wanted to do that for him.”
A day earlier, King and his teammates were stunned by the news of McKinsey’s death. He pitched the seventh inning in the school’s last game May 3 – a 5-4 win over Notre Dame, striking out three of the four batters he faced. That sent Verrado to the biggest game of its existence.
“Once I first stepped on the field, I was so emotional,” King said.
“It’s the biggest game in school history, it wasn’t the biggest game in his life,” Daryl said about his son’s save that moved Verrado into the semifinals. “It wasn’t the biggest game of his life. It was a game. It was a game.”
Before the game, Notre Dame players came over to the Verrado players and huddled with them in a show of support and unity. In the morning, Notre Dame coach Brian Fischer contacted Verrado coach Mike Ward to get his permission to do that out of respect for McKinsey.
“I never batted an eye,” Ward said. “It’s an amazing group of young men and coaches over there.”