SYRACUSE Less than a month after a State Supreme Court ruled that he could take the field, J.C. Pena did so for the Westhill baseball team.
Perhaps it wasn't a coincidence that Pena's return coincided with Westhill's first win of the season as his presence, plus the strong right arm of senior pitching ace Ben Walsh, led to a 5-1 victory over Hannibal Tuesday afternoon.
The court ruling on March 26 allowed Pena back on the field, but he still had to wait for game action until he participated in a minimum amount of practices.
So Pena was on the sidelines throughout the Warriors' spring-break trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Without him, Westhill lost all three of its games, this despite strong pitching efforts from the tandem of Ben Walsh and his younger brother, Sam, a sophomore.
The home opener finally gave Pena a chance to play, but he was nervous at the star, botching a potential double-play grounder in the top of the first inning that led to Hannibal's lone run, brought home on Greg Pitcher's single.
Pena also struck out in his first at-bat. But he returned in the bottom of the third, with the score tied 1-1, and drew a leadoff walk, racing all the way home on Kevin Karleski's run-scoring double. That ignited a three-run Westhill rally, the key blow being Mike Burton's two-out, two-run double.
By himself, Pena manufactured a run in the bottom of the fourth, too. He reached base on a force play, stole second, and as he stole third Hannibal pitcher Chris Benedict threw one wild, allowing Pena to speed all the way to the plate.
Of course, Ben Walsh had more than enough offense by that point. Giving up just three hits (all singles), Walsh went the route, amassing 16 strikeouts, at least two in each frame, and he struck out the side in the first and sixth innings.