Clayton McGinness prides himself on an even-keel approach on the mound, but even he had to let out a joyous yell and stomp his way to a bear hug with catcher Ross Cadena.
The Wichita State senior had put the final touch on the first complete game of his career, which just so happened to fall on WSU’s senior day and against the No. 8 team in the country on Saturday.
McGinness delivered the gem of his life in his last outing at Eck Stadium and it was time to celebrate the 3-1 victory over East Carolina. After 103 composed pitches, the last of which a called strike three to end the game, McGinness finally let loose.
“That’s a storybook ending kind of thing,” McGinness said after it was over.
McGinness, one of four seniors on the WSU baseball team, not only has become one of WSU’s most reliable starters, but he is one of the most loved players on the team. That much was obvious by the reaction of his teammates and coaches in the post-game huddle.
“I’ve demanded a lot of him these last four years, so watching him pitch excellent today against a very good East Carolina, we’re just all so proud of him,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “Our guys were emotional to see that. He was just fantastic. A lot of people were pulling for Clayton.”
In the stands, surrounded by nearly 30 family members and friends, McGinness’ parents, David and Jacque, watched with bated breath as their son navigated through East Carolina’s lineup, scattering five hits and one walk across nine innings.
It was a “surreal” experience watching Clayton finish the game, according to his mother.
“I just kept hoping the whole time that he was going to make it the whole way, but you never know,” Jacque McGinness said. “It really was a storybook ending, perfect. We’re so proud of everything he’s accomplished.”
McGinness retired the first 10 batters and faced the minimum through four innings. His lone blemish was a RBI single in the sixth inning, which gave ECU a 1-0 lead. But WSU tied the score the next inning when senior Jordan Boyer delivered a RBI single.
After watching McGinness throw another scoreless inning in the eighth, Hunter Gibson watched inspired from the bench and felt obligated to tell his coaches.
“I was just like, ‘Man, I want to hit for this guy,’” Gibson said about watching McGinness work. “He was throwing unbelievable and pitching his butt off. He was giving us a chance to win this game, so I knew we had to make it happen for him.”
With two outs and two on in the eighth inning, Butler inserted Gibson as a pinch hitter and the sophomore came through with a RBI single for the game-winning run. Jacob Katzfey followed with another two-out RBI single to establish a 3-1 lead.
In the dugout, Butler had a decision to make: trust McGinness longer than he’d ever thrown before or go to a new arm in the bullpen to close out the game.
“I wanted Clayton to get the complete game, I really did,” Butler said. “I was probably going to go down with him, win or lose. I really wanted him to get the nine innings.”
Before McGinness went back out in the ninth inning, Cadena had a message for the senior.
“This is the last chance you get to pitch here,” Cadena told him. “Leave everything you have on the field.”
When McGinness sprinted out to the field, the crowd of 2,207 burst into applause. His mother was hoping he would at least receive the chance to finish what he started, especially considering he was under 100 pitches entering the ninth inning.
“It was so cool to hear everyone go crazy like that for him,” Jacque McGinness said. “I was hoping he would get a chance, only so if he couldn’t finish the game at least it would let him come off the field so we could clap for him.”
But there would be no early exit, even after a lead-off walk.
McGinness battled for an out against the next hitter, but his chances of finishing the game looked bleak when he fell behind 3-0 in the count. After a meeting with Cadena and WSU pitching coach Mike Pelfrey, McGinness battled back in the count and eventually coaxed a fly ball to center field for the second out.
“I try not to let the moment get to me, but it’s hard because I can hear everyone yelling and screaming, which is awesome because it was an amazing atmosphere,” McGinness said. “But I try to cancel all of that stuff out. I kept telling myself the next batter is the most important and the next pitch is the most important.”
With the tying run at the plate, McGinness was at his best against East Carolina’s No. 3 hitter. After a foul ball, McGinness froze ECU’s Spencer Brickhouse with an outside fastball and then with an 0-2 count, McGinness went right back to his fastball.
It was the perfect pitch, at the knees and painting the corner of the plate away from the hitter. McGinness anticipated the punch-out and skipped to home plate, then began to celebrate when he saw the umpire begin his strikeout motion.
“That was an amazing feeling,” McGinness said. “My confidence was at an all-time high because my coach trusted me to finish the game. That gave me all of the confidence in the world to allow me to continue doing what I was doing and keep attacking. That’s a game I’ll never forget.”