Throwing pitching gems can always make a coach’s life easier.
However, when a player throws a no-hitter despite only receiving one run of support, that makes the pitching gem all the more impressive.
In a critical SOC II affair that pitted two standout units against one another, Minford’s Jacob McCaleb found a way to come through in a pressure-cooker, as the senior’s no-hitter lifted the Falcons to a critical 1-0 victory over South Webster in a conference affair held at South Webster High School on Wednesday.
For McCaleb, throwing the no-hitter is something that he surely will never forget.
“It felt fantastic,” McCaleb said. “It felt good to help out my team in the best way that I could. It’s really been a great experience for me.”
However, Aaron Hopper felt that it was an experience that was well-deserved.
“As far as Jacob is concerned, I think that the work that he’s put in during the offseason is a real testament to how he’s improved,” Hopper said. “Ultimately, I believe that his work has allowed him to become more confident in his abilities, and as a result, it’s allowed him to push through critical game situations like holding a no-hitter in a 1-0 game.”
From the outset, McCaleb felt that he was on a nice roll from the hill.
The stats certainly represent that. During the entire contest, the senior only accumulated three strikeouts but maintained excellent control throughout the contest by only walking two batters all game.
A big part of that, Hopper said, was due to McCaleb’s ability to keep the ball in the lower portion of the strike zone and accumulate first-pitch strikes that ended up making his own life easier.
“We teach not only Jacob but everybody else to be down in the zone,” Hopper said. “Balls down in the zone are so much harder to hit, and he does a great job of staying down in the strike zone. Being able to get ahead with his fastball allowed him to rely on his off-speed pitches over the rest of the at-bats. Every pitch that he had was on. He had his whole arsenal working.”
“I felt really good (on Wednesday),” McCaleb said. “Everything was working and felt right. However, I had some really great defense behind me, too. Everything was just clicking that night for everybody. There were some great defensive plays in the infield and in the outfield. I was just trying to do the best that I could to hold up my end of the bargain.”
The defense was indeed sound in the field, as several excellent plays in the outfield from Darius Jordan and Brayden Davis, along with the play of Matthew Gullett and Tyler McCormick at second and third base, proved to be crucial for the Falcons as Minford didn’t commit a single error during the entire affair. That, in turn, allowed McCaleb to focus on the next man up.
“We had several great plays,” Hopper said. “Darius Jordan and Brayden Davis both made diving catches in the outfield to preserve the no-hitter, and Matthew Gullett, along with Tyler McCormick, made excellent plays at second and third base. It was definitely a team effort in that regard. That’s probably one of the best ways to have a no-hitter, is for everybody to contribute.”
Over the duration of the contest, both units were shut down by the effective pitching performances that McCaleb and South Webster hand Bradley Gee put together. However, McCaleb continued to follow the blueprint that Hopper and his brand-new coaching staff have set throughout the offseason.
“We’ve got new coaches this year, and they’ve given us a whole new look on how we play as well as how we work to prepare ourselves for the game,” McCaleb said. “We have all learned to play more aggressively in every aspect of the game. They’ve just been a fantastic help for us and a joy to have and be around.”
More importantly, McCaleb felt confident about his own ability to finish the affair out in the right manner.
“Baseball’s a game that I love,” McCaleb said. “I’ve been playing it all of my life. It was a situation that I felt that I was prepared for. Our coaches have put us in uncomfortable situations to prepare us for situations like (Wednesday against South Webster) so that we can remain calm, talk it out, and have the confidence in ourselves to know that we can take care of the situation.”
Which is a comment that doesn’t surprise Hopper one bit.
“That pretty much sums up Jacob as a person,” Hopper said. “He’s more concerned about the whole product rather than himself. I just kept telling him, ‘Just keep this right here. We’ll get you a run eventually.’ It was pretty amazing to watch. Most guys crack under the situation, thinking that they have to be perfect in order to keep the team in this, but he just went out and did what we asked him to do, which was to throw strikes.”
After Minford added a run in the top of the seventh frame, South Webster, with plenty of firepower in its own right, had a chance to create its own opportunity in the bottom half of the seventh frame. McCaleb, however, had none of it and shut the potent offense down in 1-2-3 fashion to preserve the no-no, and more importantly, the win.”
“It felt like a relief,” McCaleb said. “With a one-run lead, it can be stressful at the end, but it was fantastic. I’m just so grateful to have had the experience.”
“(Bradley) Gee is obviously South Webster’s guy on the mound,” Hopper said. “For him to bear down and find a way to win is a huge statement. The resolve and the tenacity that it takes speaks volumes, not only for Jacob as a person but for the team and the character of each of our guys.”
An evident fact, considering that Minford is 3-1 on the year.
“Jacob, Eric (Cook), and Matthew (Minford’s seniors) do a great job in guiding the younger players in the right direction,” Hopper said. “It’s hard, especially for a young team, combined with a whole new coaching staff, to be effective early on. It’s a testament to these seniors. They’ve bought in so quickly, and it’s shown. In turn, that’s allowed the younger guys to buy in, and that’s created a bond throughout the entire unit. This might be the closest team that I’ve ever been a part of, playing or coaching.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7