SINGAPORE - Just a few days before his school's first national C Division softball match in June, Catholic High School (CHS) vice-captain Markko Jeremy Laiman was dealt a blow after spraining his ankle in training.
He could do light training but was not well enough to return to action until his school's semi-final against Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) last week.
In the final on Wednesday (Aug 17) - only his second match this season - Markko played a starring role in helping his school clinch their third title in a row after scoring a decisive home run as they defeated Raffles Institution (RI) 5-3 at the ACS(I) field.
The 14-year-old said: "I was actually quite sad that I got injured just a few days before the first match. But having said that, I was happy that I got to play in the semi-final and final.
"I want to thank all those who played against us. They played a very good match, we definitely got a good fight and enjoyed playing against them too."
Defending champions CHS were 2-0 down after the first two innings but regrouped and levelled early in the third inning.
Up stepped Markko, the seventh batter in that inning, who then hit a home run, allowing his team to score three runs and lead 5-2.
RI scored the solitary run of the last two innings to make the final score 5-3.
CHS vice-captain Ephraim Wang was pleased with the result and admitted he felt a bit of pressure as the pitcher and part of a team who were defending their title.
The Secondary 2 student said: "I was quite stressed during the game but I just tried to relax and listen to coach. The support also helped me calm down.
"(After the second inning), our coach told us it's not over until the last pitch is thrown and we should take it pitch by pitch and try hard for every single one so that gave us extra motivation."
Markko did not expect to hit a home run but added that coming back from 2-0 down helped the team feel re-energised.
He also credited their teamwork for the title triumph, adding: "We support each other well. Like just now when we were down, we just cheered each other and told each other it's okay, just shake it off and focus on the next one.
"Even though we've won this year, we have a lot to improve on and we'll continue to work hard and hopefully get the gold again (in the B Division this time)."
Both players also thanked their coaches, teachers and teammates for their support. About 20 students from each school were in full voice, taking turns to cheer for their respective teams .
CHS coach Koh Ruoh Jie praised the duo for performing well during the season, highlighting Markko's return from injury and Ephraim's ability to perform despite feeling nervous.
Koh, 40, added: "Initially we were down 2-0, but I'm very proud that our boys continued to fight despite being down and that one inning made the difference when they rallied on and scored enough to tide us through the rest of the game.
"We had very tough opponents who played very well in the previous matches. We played them in June at a carnival and we won so that gave us confidence that we could win."
RI vice-captain Lim Ding Kai, 14, was proud of his team's performance and learnt the importance of teamwork and listening to feedback
He added: "On the field, it's anyone's game. We've had a good season, we've been improving and working hard and if we keep at this rate, we can be a great team.
"Of course the goal is to be number one... winning is not everything, it's more about the experience and what you learnt.
"It was also very exciting and enjoyable to be competing in the C Division after we weren't able to last year."