The season, the championship, the chance at history, all came down to one final inning, and Dylan Biumi could barely get the ball over the plate.
Lambert led 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 3 of the Class AAAAAA championship series at Milton, and the senior right-hander was in to get the biggest save of his career.
His first warm-up pitch hit the grass 20 feet in front of home plate.
"I’ve never been more nervous to pitch in my life," Biumi said. "I didn’t think I was going to be able to throw a strike."
And yet, he did, inducing a fielder’s choice, a fly out to foul territory in left field and a called third strike that set off the Longhorns’ celebration on the field and gave the 2014 Forsyth County News’ Co-Pitcher of the Year an incredible memory.
"I just wanted to compete, just give my team a chance to win, do my best and help out the team wherever I could," Biumi said, "if it was starting or relief or anything. Just do whatever I could to help the team in any way."
That turned out to be Biumi’s presence as Lambert’s No. 1 starter. He finished the season 11-1 with a 1.15 ERA allowing just 10 earned runs in 60 2/3 innings with 52 strikeouts.
How did it even come to Biumi on the mound to get the final three outs for the Longhorns’ championship season? Until this season, he’d been primarily a shortstop and third baseman on his travel team. Until sophomore year in the state playoffs, he’d never thrown a varsity pitch. But Lambert coach Jamie Corr called on Biumi to start Game 3 against Loganville, and he got his first taste.
"That was so nerve-racking," Biumi said.
The nerves got better Biumi’s junior season, but only some. With then-senior Brock Maxwell unable to pitch, Biumi and senior Joe Vonderschmidt were the only starting pitchers for Lambert. The two teamed up to help the Longhorns reach the second round of the playoffs.
Maxwell and Vonderschmidt graduated, leaving Biumi ostensibly as Lambert’s only returning starting pitcher, but it was a responsibility he felt ready to take.
"You know some of the batters on other teams. You know how to pitch to them," Biumi said. "[Junior year] really calmed me down a lot."
The Longhorns’ pitching staff was bolstered when sophomore Seth Beer transferred from King’s Ridge and junior JD Dutka transferred from North Gwinnett.
Suddenly, Lambert had reinforcements. Biumi’s nerves improved even more.
"When you know you have JD and Seth and all our relief pitchers, it really relaxes you," Biumi said. "You don’t have to worry about doing too much, because if you have an off-day, you know that someone’s going to come in and help you do their job."
Biumi immediately performed like the Longhorns’ undisputed senior leader, and never more so than when Lambert began to get the attention of the entire country.
At the USA Baseball Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, Biumi faced Lewisburg High School, the defending Class AAAAA champions out of Mississippi. Biumi was undaunted, holding the Patriots scoreless over six innings as Lambert won 7-0 and went on to win the prestigious tournament.
"That really got my confidence up knowing I could really compete against them," Biumi said.
Soon after, Lambert was ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps and USA Today.
The Longhorns went from a team with potential to the one with the target on its back.
"At first, it was mind-blowing," Biumi said. "You don’t know what to expect. When everyone starts talking about you, it can get to your head.
"But coach Corr did such a good job with us, not worrying about the rankings or record. [The coaching staff] did a really good job of keeping us down to earth."
Biumi will bring his championship experience to Western Carolina next season, a program that’s known plenty of success. The Catamounts are the two-time Southern Conference regular season champions.
Biumi knows he’s going to Western Carolina as a relief pitcher, and it’s a role he relishes – the chance to reach back and find his top velocity to shut down opponents.
"I’m hoping we can do big things," Biumi said. "I hope I can come in and give them some relief. Even if they need me to start, I can try some of that.
"Wherever they need me I’m going to go out there and compete and hopefully get some time my freshman year and advance from there."