After the longest and perhaps most effective pitching outing of his high school career, North Hall’s Caleb Clark still felt a little disappointed.
The junior left-hander came two outs away from a no-hit shutout in the Trojans’ 8-3 win against East Hall on Wednesday, April 4, at Jody Davis Field in Gainesville. Despite falling just short of his first-ever no-hitter and complete game, he stuck out eight batters over 6⅔ dominant innings.
“That kind of stuff just happens,” Clark said of losing his no-hitter in the final inning. “I fell behind in the count too much as the game went on. … But it’s still a region win, so I can’t complain.”
In fact, it was the 14th straight win for North Hall (16-3, 11-0 Region 7-3A), which maintained its stranglehold on the region lead with seven games left. Senior catcher Charlie Erickson aided the cause with a fourth-inning grand slam that gave the Trojans a 7-0 lead.
North Hall built such a comfortable advantage behind the pitching of Clark, who retired nine straight after plunking Vikings leadoff hitter Luke Cooper (1 for 3, one RBI).
Prior to the seventh inning, only four East Hall (10-10, 5-6 region) batters reached base against him, with one baserunner coming via error.
“(Clark) has been so consistent, and about 70 percent of his pitchers have been for strikes,” Trojans coach Trevor Flow said. “He’s got good movement on his two-seam fastball, and he’s been putting it around the zone. And he’s so smooth to the plate that the ball kind of jumps on hitters. He can be deceptive.”
Clark helped his own cause in the bottom of the third inning, smacking a leadoff single up the middle and moving all the way to third base on a balk and fielder’s choice.
Then junior Kelton Kieschnick came out to run for Erickson, who drew the first of his two walks to put runners at the corners with two away. Sophomore first baseman Jackson Dyer plated both runners when he belted a two-strike double to center field.
“I’m so proud of Jackson for doing that with two strikes on him,” Flow said. “Two-strike hits win games. He drove it backside, and it really set the tone for us.”
Dyer advanced to third base on a wild pitch and scampered home on a single by junior shortstop Caleb Wiley (2 for 3) to put the Trojans ahead 3-0 to end the frame.
Clark started another big inning in his next at-bat, driving a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth. Junior left fielder David Seavey was hit by a pitch and senior third baseman Reese Olson walked, setting the stage for Erickson’s first-ever grand slam and third home run of the season.
“He threw me a curveball, and I had noticed that he wasn’t throwing his fastball for strikes very well,” said the senior catcher, who also threw out a runner trying to steal second base in the first inning. “I was still looking fastball and could adjust, but I told myself I’d swing at a curveball if it came close.”
North Hall tacked on its final run in the sixth inning when sophomore second baseman Tyler Brooks knocked a bases-loaded fielder’s choice. The Vikings threw home for the force-out, but officials ruled the catcher’s foot was off the plate, giving Kieschnick his second run of the night.
Clark, meanwhile, continued his tear through the opposing lineup, though he struggled a bit with command in later innings.
He issued leadoff walks in the fifth and sixth innings before allowing another free pass to junior catcher Mike Matuska with one out in the seventh. Senior left fielder Levi Crocker broke up Clark’s no-hitter with a single to right field, and junior Matt Lacey followed with a single of his own that eventually scored Matuska after a fielding error.
“Coming in after the sixth, I contemplated taking (Clark) out,” Flow said. “But I wanted to leave him in just to see where his head was. He also had a low pitch count, so we wanted to give him a chance for the no-hitter. I thought he was a bit tired, but he threw well.”
Clark said he didn’t feel much fatigue as the game wore on, claiming he simply missed his spot on Crocker’s hit.
East Hall continued its threat when Crocker scored as Erickson attempted to pick off another runner stealing second base. Clark issued another walk before giving way to junior Dylan Wiley, who surrendered an RBI single to Cooper before inducing a flyout to end the game.
After winning Game 1, 6-0, on Monday and getting an impressive outing from Clark on Wednesday, the Trojans will go for the region series sweep when they visit East Hall Park at 5:55 p.m. Friday.