A thousand things could have been racing through Justin Twine's mind as he walked to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs and the game tied Tuesday night.
But he kept it simple.
"I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself," Twine said. "I tried to treat it as another at-bat, a quality at-bat. Get a good pitch to hit and keep my focus."
It worked. Twine smashed a hard grounder past the pitcher that took a high hop off second base and went into center field as Boo Vazquez raced home with the go-ahead run to give the Hoppers a 5-4 win over Delmarva.
A moment later, Twine was engulfed by his happy teammates.
"That's pretty cool to experience," Twine said. "That's what baseball is about."
Although the Hoppers had been enjoying success - Tuesday's win moved their record to 5-1 - Twine was off to a slow start, going hitless in his first 17 at-bats. He had drawn six walks, an indication of improved plate discipline.
"It took awhile, but it came at the right time," Twine said of recording his first hit.
"I was looking for a pitch I could drive into a gap or hit hard, and he missed with a fastball up."
Now in his third season in Greensboro, but still just 21 years old, Twine knows it's a long season and he tried not to get discouraged.
"It's early, so I'm not down yet," he said. "Coach (hitting coach Frank Moore) said my swing looks good. It does boost my confidence. This team hits the ball and we feed off that, so I knew my time would come up soon."
Moore said the numbers showing on the video board - a .000 batting average for Twine - were misleading.
"He wasn't struggling," the coach said. "He was getting good at-bats every night and he didn't take one at-bat over to the next."
Manager Todd Pratt wasn't surprised that Twine came through in the clutch.
"If you work hard and prepare for opportunities, it's not luck," Pratt said. "He's had good at-bats and I was very confident in him when the situation arose."
Early on, the game didn't look as if it would have a good ending for the Hoppers. Delmarva starter Lucas Humpal shut them out for five innings before Garvis Lara lined an opposite-field home run to left field in the sixth. That cut the Shorebirds' lead to 2-1.
From there, things went back and forth. Delmarva pushed the lead to 3-1 but Hoppers cut it to 3-2 and then took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Ryley MacEachern entered for a save opportunity, but Lara's error opened the door for an unearned run that tied the game.
The Hoppers made it dramatic in the bottom of the ninth. Vazquez led off with a single but Jarett Rindfleisch struck out and Corey Bird grounded out. Lara was given an intentional walk and Aaron Knapp drew a walk that loaded the bases and set the stage for Twine's heroics.
"I said early on that this team is going to find ways to win," Pratt said. "Pitching, defense, speed, power, all aspects of the game. Just keep grinding at-bats."
MacEachern picked up the win. He did a good job of limiting the damage to one run in the top of the ninth, helped by a nice play at third base by Branden Berry to end the inning.
Hoppers starter Jordan Holloway settled down after allowing a two-run homer in the first inning. He made it through five innings, striking out nine. L.J. Brewster pitched the next three, giving up a solo homer but adding five more strikeouts. MacEachern added two, giving the staff 16 strikeouts for the night.
"Holloway showed a lot of maturity," said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. "He didn't let that first inning affect him."
NOTES: Vazquez had a single and two walks, Knapp had two hits and Colby Lusignan added two more, including an RBI double … Dalton Wheat and Corey Bird also had RBIs … The teams wrap up the series with a noon game on Wednesday. Alex Mateo with start for the Hoppers.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.