“I don’t get nervous,” McGrady said. “I love it. I love being able to set the tone coming out early and hopefully, give our team the momentum to ride through the series right here, do good to take us into game two and make it a little easier on the next guy.”
McGrady faced a great deal of pressure last year and had some of the best pitching performances of his high school career.
“Last year, during the playoffs in the first round I threw one of the games of my life,” McGrady said. “It was a two-hit shutout against Shades Mountain. Then, the next week I followed that up with a one-hit shutout against Holy Spirit. I went in with a big hit against Maplesville and got ripped off the mound.”
Phillips admires the fact that McGrady isn’t afraid to admit his mistakes.
“Zach is a good leader for us,” Phillips said. “He’s humble—when he messes up, he’s not afraid to say he’s messed up. To me, that takes a lot of guts for the kids to fess up when they do something wrong and admit to it, but he’s not afraid to do it in front of them. He’s also encouraging. When the kids are struggling, he’s one of the first to encourage them to try to pump them up. He’s somebody we’re definitely going to miss next year. He’s a great athlete, whether it’s football, baseball or basketball. He gives it all he’s got—in practice and in game situations. He does everything you ask of him.”
This year marks Fayetteville’s fourth straight area regular season crown and fifth straight playoff appearance. Not surprisingly, McGrady’s favorite memory from his entire high school career is the one that was filled with the most pressure.
“My favorite game ever, even though we lost, it was the state championship game,” McGrady said. “It was just amazing to be able to pitch there and have that pressure on you. I love it. My whole career we’ve had deep playoff runs. Last year, we underachieved and fell to Maplesville in the third round. We just came out flat and didn’t play as good as we should have. I feel like we could have gone to the state championship last year too. We’ve just got to get hot at the right time this year and hopefully we can be back.”
McGrady said he will miss playing baseball at Fayetteville.
“It’s good being a senior where you are a leader on the team and where people look up to you and everything,” he said. “It kind of sucks too because I don’t want to graduate. I would much rather be out here next year.”
Fayetteville’s other senior on the team is first baseman Hunter Garner. Phillips said his defense is immaculately clean.
“Hunter Garner—he’s our other senior,” Phillips said. “Hunter is a good ballplayer. Defensively, he’s probably one of the best first basemen around. He scoops everything. He’s like a vacuum cleaner there. He does a really good job for us. His bat—when he’s on, he can rip the cover off the ball. He’s pretty good with the bat too. Those are two seniors that we’re really going to miss next year.”
Garner is straight and to the point. When asked his favorite playoff memory, he pointed out last year’s loss to Maplesville.
“The last game we played last year because I went three for four with one home run and didn’t have any errors in the field,” Garner said. “It didn’t help much.”
Garner said this year’s team is a tight-knit bunch.
“I think this year we’re more as a family to each other,” Garner said. “We don’t argue that much. We just play.”
Fayetteville hosts Southeastern (3-4) this afternoon for a doubleheader with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m.