NAMPA - Justin Marino's first season on Bishop Kelly's varsity baseball team hasn't gone exactly as he planned.
The junior began the season as a starter at second base and a regular in the batting lineup before a hitting slump took its toll on Marino's confidence.
"This kid has probably worked the hardest of any kid I have on this team, but he's had kind of no luck," Bishop Kelly coach Bobby Sutcliffe said. "I walked up to him before he went up (to bat) and I said, 'Let's let one year of your hard work pay off in one swing.' "
Sutcliffe couldn't have scripted it any better.
Marino made contact on the second pitch he faced, sending it flying over the left-field wall and onto Garrity Boulevard for a grand slam in Bishop Kelly's 13-1 victory over Nampa on Friday at Rodeo Park.
The game was called after five innings because of the 10-run mercy rule.
"That was the first time all season that I really let everything out of my mind. I had a really clear head," said Marino, who came in as a pinch hitter in the top of the fifth. "It was just see ball, hit ball. I knew right after I hit it that it was gone. That feeling, you can't compare it to anything else."
Bishop Kelly improved to 18-2 overall and 14-0 in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference. The Knights have already wrapped up their eighth regular-season title in nine seasons, and have not lost a conference game since 2011.
That's a span of 34 consecutive games, which has the Knights eyeing a possible sixth district championship in nine seasons. BK is 43-4 dating back to the start of the 2011-12 season, and the Knights' only losses this year came against out-of-state teams from Nevada and Arizona.
"We are just lucky, in a way, to have this record this year," Sutcliffe said. "At any given time I think any of these teams can beat us, but these kids really play for fun. They just love this game.
"After practice, I have to tell them to go away. They just live and breathe this game."
The Knights' commitment to their sport was evident against the Bulldogs (7-13, 5-10). Nine batters recorded a hit, and seven of those hits went for extra bases.
Sophomore right-hander Tyler Oldenberg earned the win, pitching a two-hit shutout over four innings with six strikeouts and two walks.
"The biggest thing with this team is that we're a brotherhood. It's like my second family. We are just so close," Marino said. "We pick each other up and we don't really let anything negative get us down."