Gaither senior pitcher Evan Gainey, a junior at the time, took the mound for his first start against district rival King last year.
Gainey made it through a bad case of nerves and into the second inning before facing an unfamiliar batter.
"It was an unexpected hitter, a guy I didn't know his tendencies," Gainey said.
He left a fastball a little high and the left-handed batter turned on it. Then two horrific sounds Gainey followed in split-second succession: the PING of the aluminum bat and the WHACK of the line drive caroming off his face.
The impact of the speeding baseball swept him off his feet.
"It hit me on the right side of my face and I was out for a few minutes," Gainey said. "When I got up the pain was immediate and intense."
Gainey was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where doctors diagnosed a broken occipital bone (in the back of his skull), a fractured upper jawbone and a damaged retina.
Doctors concluded the impact must have been devastating to cause such a break in a bone in the back of the head. Gainey returned home with a bottle full of Vicodin, a swollen head, a patch over his eye and an ominous warning.
"They said I could go blind if I got hit again before it healed," Gainey said.
After a few weeks, the swelling went down and the bones healed, and Gainey faced one of the more important decisions of his young life: to play or not play.
Gainey is not a Division I recruit, and he wasn't even in the starting pitching rotation in 2011. It would have been very easy for him to call it quits.
"It's hard for a pitcher to come back from a serious facial injury," said Gaither skipper Frank Permuy. "It was even harder for Evan because it was his first appearance as a pitcher."
Nevertheless, Gainey was cleared to play a couple weeks later and he began getting reps in American Legion play during the summer. According to Permuy, "he really came into his own during our fall season,"
However, the specter of that fateful Saturday afternoon would haunt Gainey.
"At the beginning, whenever a ball was hit, I would flinch," Gainey recalled.
The psychological imprint that injury left proved inescapable. It is akin to a boxer who has been knocked out by an opponent. They are always afraid of it happening again so sometimes they adjust their technique to compensate.
If Evan were to compensate in this way, his days on the mound would have been over. He remembers when he finally conquered his fear.
"I realized that what happened to me was such a rare incident, that the chances of it ever happening again were almost none."
And that was it.
Gainey regained his full pitching motion, his confidence and became a better pitcher.
His re-emergence could not be more timely for the Cowboys.
Right-handers Robert Johnson and Zach Jackson graduated and junior Eric Collier transferred, leaving a gaping void in the Cowboy pitching department. Gainey was there to answer the call.
"I know that Coach (Nelson) North has worked really hard with Evan and Evan's work ethic has really helped him," Permuy said. "He has developed into a fine strike thrower and is now our No. 1 pitcher."
Evan carries the load for Gaither in 2012, pitching 41 of the Cowboys' 102 innings while posting a 4-2 record and an impressive 1.02 ERA.
"I don't know where we'd be without him," Permuy said.
Aided by the FHSAA's move to less powerful bats that diminished the risk of such injuries, Gainey said he no longer flinches.
"I don't even think about it anymore."