SOUTH BEND – TinCaps outfielder Hunter Renfroe has been in this position before – just a few months ago, actually, with about 17,000 more fans and his college career at Mississippi State on the line.
Renfroe led his team to the championship game in the College World Series, where the Bulldogs were swept in a best-of-three series against UCLA.
Now, the San Diego Padres first-round pick is in the postseason again – this time, as a professional. Despite some tougher competition and a slump at the tail end of the regular season, the 21-year-old has shined throughout the postseason.
"Anytime you come out here and compete for a postseason, any kind of championship series or anything like that, it feels great," Renfroe said after Fort Wayne's series-saving win against South Bend on Sunday, which forced do-or-die Game 3 on Monday. "Any time you come out ahead, it feels even better."
Renfroe was a big piece of fighting off elimination by the Silver Hawks.
He got the first run of the game, a solo home run over the left-center wall that gave the TinCaps a 1-0 advantage in the top of the sixth inning. He also launched a triple in a 2-for-5 day at the plate, one of his most productive outings since slipping to a .212 batting average to end the regular season.
Renfroe batted .194 and struck out 15 times in 36 at-bats in his last 10 regular-season games. For manager Jose Valentin, that's irrelevant now.
"He's capable to go out there and just take over. He's got all the ability, he's got all the potential to do it," Valentin said. "He just probably gets some confidence. He picked it up right on time, right when we need it, and that's fine with me. Whatever happened in the regular season is already passed, already over."
What happened Sunday, when a win meant a shot at the Midwest League Championship and a loss meant an end to the season, could be a sign of what's to come for the former Bulldog.
Renfroe had batted just .143 against lefties leading into Game 2 of the Eastern Division Championship Series. His solo shot, the third homer of his young career, came off left-handed hurler Enrique Garcia in what had been a shutout game, and with two outs to boot.
Valentin and the TinCaps need that from Renfroe.
"Good players come through in the hard times, crucial situations with pressure. He's handled it pretty good," Valentin said. "There's a lot of pressure on him, being the first-round pick of the organization. That's a lot over his head to carry and shoulder, but he's doing it the right way. … He just go up there and be the player that they want him to be right when he have to."
He might need to do the same Monday. And that, Renfroe said, is fine by him.
"We got one more tomorrow," he said after the win Sunday. "Finish it out."