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Prep pitcher finds solace after holding dying friend in arms

St. Francis Preparatory pitcher Dylan Lawrence prepares to release the ball during a game against McClancy. Photo by Yinghao Luo
TimesLedger Newspapers

Dylan Lawrence can block everything out when he is on the pitcher’s mound: the noise of the crowd, the pressure of the moment and, most importantly, the gut-wrenching pain left from holding dying friend Daniel Fernandez in his arms.

Lawrence, a junior pitcher at St. Francis Prep, was on the party bus bound for a Sweet 16 in New Jersey Aug. 31 when the 16-year-old Fernandez, his close friend and fellow SFP student, stuck his head out of an emergency hatch and hit it on the underside of an overpass. He died later that night from the severe injuries.

Lawrence and another friend reacted courageously in the moment and carried Fernandez off the bus in hopes he would be OK.

“Everyone was in shock,” Lawrence said. “Then everyone’s instincts took over. We had to do what was right to get him out, hopefully save him.”

It’s been a tough road back for Lawrence, one of the Terriers’ top starters. He had trouble focusing weeks after Fernandez’s death. He watched his grades slip and attended therapy sessions for two months. His biggest escape was baseball and pitching for the Bayside Yankees in the fall and the Terriers this spring.

“The doctor said to him, ‘When you are on the mound, are you focused?’” his mother Laura said. “He said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Lawrence said things are different on the mound. He has to be in total control of his emotions and his pitches if he wants to succeed.

“I can’t hear anything,” said Lawrence, a Middle Village native. “It’s all concentrated toward the catcher and the hitter.”

He put that poise on display in SFP’s 2-1 win over host Monsignor McClancy April 15. Lawrence, in his second start of the year, tossed a complete game three-hitter, allowing just one earned run, striking out five and walking two.

The gritty righty, who has interest from Boston College, Stanford, Rhode Island and Kansas, among others, stranded runners in four different innings, including two in the seventh. He mixed his mid-80s sinking fastball with a strong slider and curve.

“He has a great competitive spirit,” St. Francis Prep Coach Brother Robert Kent said. “He concentrates when it gets tough.”

The emotions surrounding Fernandez’s death were brought to the forefront again just a few weeks ago for the sixth-month anniversary March 31. Lawrence handled it better than expected as he was one of the few kids who went over to hug Fernandez’s parents during mass at the school. It was a positive sign.

“It was hard to help him,” Laura Lawrence said. “It affected all of us very, very much. It’s hard to help someone when you feel the pain, too, but I think he is going to be all right.”

Her son grew close to Fernandez, a Woodside native, starting as freshmen. They would often ride the Q88 bus together. Lawrence described his friend as a happy kid who made everything fun. He tries keeping that spirit alive, but also learned from the events on the party bus.

“I’m more cautious and safe, always thinking things out, making the best decision, what’s smart,” he said.

Lawrence and the baseball team have already decided they will keep Fernandez’s memory with them this season. They say his name during their pregame prayer. Kent said they don’t talk about Fernandez, but his memory is always with his players.

The team, especially Lawrence, wants to win the CHSAA city title with him in mind to further help the healing.

“We would do it for Dan,” Lawrence said. “It would be great. We all think we can do it.”

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