There’s only one word to describe North Hall pitcher Eli Reece’s performance against Gilmer Monday evening: Perfect.
Reece retired 15 consecutive batters — striking out eight of them — to lead the Trojans to a 10-0 win via run rule after five innings, completing the perfect game with a strikeout before being swarmed by his teammates in a congratulatory huddle.
After it was all over, Reece said it took him a few moments to process what he had accomplished.
“I didn’t have any words,” he said. “I was speechless.”
What he lacked in words, Reece made up for with heat and precision.
He averaged under 11 pitches per inning in the effort, and over the course of the game, only one Gilmer batter reached a three-ball count. In the first three innings of the contest, Reece threw just one ball.
Reece said he could tell he was going to have a good day when he was warming up in the bullpen before the start of the game, and felt even better once he got onto the mound.
“I went out there and in the first inning I just commanded the zone,” he said. “After that, I was dialed up, ready to go.”
The performance was exactly what Reece needed to regain his confidence after struggling with some control issues earlier in the season, according to North Hall coach Trevor Flow.
Flow said the coaching staff made a few minor adjustments to Reece’s throwing motion on Friday, and the junior pitcher has already started to reap the rewards of his hard work.
“He bought in, he went to work, and there’s the outcome,” Flow said. “That’s what he’s capable of doing every time he steps on the mound. Extremely proud of that kid. If anybody deserves it, it’s him, for sure.”
Flow said he wasn’t sure if it was the first perfect game thrown by a North Hall pitcher, but at the very least “it’s been a long time.”
The Gilmer pitching staff had a bit more trouble.
North Hall put together three runs in the first three innings, but sloppy pitching from the Bobcats helped the Trojans to really get things going in the fourth. Gilmer walked in a pair of runs and allowed another on a wild pitch. Later in the inning, Tate Brooks, Cooper Helton, Baker Dyer and Ajay Jones all batted runners in, pushing the score up to 10-0 going into the top of the fifth.
At that point, Reece knew he was three batters away from completing the perfect game with a run rule victory, but he stayed focused on facing one batter at a time rather than thinking about what he was about to accomplish.
“Just keep pounding the zone, keep doing what I’ve been doing and trust the defense,” Reece said of his thoughts at the time. “Just like I’d been doing the whole game.”
He struck out the first batter in the fifth, and there was a brief moment of tension when an infield grounder nearly allowed the second Gilmer runner to make it to first. But Reece left no doubt about the outcome with the final out, striking out the final Bobcat in four pitches to ice the game.
“It meant a lot,” Reece said of the accomplishment “It shows the hard work and adjustments I’ve bought into thanks to our pitching coach. It just meant a lot for the team I think to come out and get this win.”