ORONO – Playing loose while staying locked in could be one of the tougher tasks in sports, but that’s been the secret all year for Orono baseball.
On every great team, there’s a leader, a player that personifies the traits of the group at large.
“He’s always smiling. He’s the goofiest kid I’ve ever met,” said Orono senior catcher Jason Desisto.
That’s Javier Santiago, but behind his goofiness and ability to stay loose is an athlete ready to lead, especially in the big moments.
“He’s been under pressure before…He’s a goalie on the soccer team. He’s the center on the basketball team. This is where when student athletes that play other sports, their other gears kick in,” said Orono Head Coach Don Joseph.
In the bottom of the seventh of Thursday’s Class C North final, all of Mansfield Stadium held its breath. Joseph didn’t need a home run or extra-base hit from Santiago–just a single to get the job done.
“I was like, ‘I got you coach. I know what I have to do for this time and I know it’s not a home run, I just have to do my job,'” Santiago said.
Trailing Washington Academy with a state championship berth on the line, Santiago didn’t change a thing.
“He was riling everyone up, and he was getting us going for that inning, and then what do you know, he’s the guy at the plate,” Desisto said.
In the biggest moment, and in his first game back since rehabbing a partially torn meniscus, Santiago stepped into the box, cracked a smile, and sent the Red Riots to the State Championship.
“It was a surreal moment for me. Something that I dream about, but we’re not done yet,” Santiago said.
Playing loose has translated to results all year for the Red Riots. It’s been the staple of a team that now returns to the state championship for the second straight season.
“The thing that’s great about Coach Joseph is he’s always talking about adjusting in the game, but he always does it in his every day life. He’s always adjusting and he’s sort of adapted to our style and method,” Desisto said.
At practice, there’s music playing. In the games, the dugout’s loose.
For players like Santiago and Desisto, who played in that 2019 state game, staying relaxed is the No. 1 goal…that, and doing your job.
“I don’t care about W’s right now. Just execute. The wins will take care of themselves,” Joseph said.
No. 1 Orono will face No. 2 Monmouth on Saturday at St. Joseph’s College, first pitch scheduled for 4:30 p.m.