MILTON - During back-to-back extended innings Saturday, Montoursville's Andrew Null stepped out behind the dugout to throw. He had to find some way to keep loose as Montoursville's offense exploded.
The junior had quite the hand in creating the problem, as Montoursville sent 25 batters to the plate in the third and fourth innings, and he went 3-for-3 in that stretch. The throwing sessions behind the dugout seemed to be just enough to keep Null sharp, as he threw a four-inning no-hitter at returning District 4 Class AAA runner-up Milton in a surprising 17-0 win.
Null faced just three batters over the minimum, and finished 4-for-4 offensively with a home run and four RBI. Montoursville pounded out 13 hits and all nine starters scored a run in the rout.
"It's still early. They're not in top shape," Null said, downplaying the score. "Just like us, they probably haven't practiced much outside. We just have to treat it like a normal game and come out and get the next one."
As impressive as Null's offensive performance was, his pitching performance may have been better. The last two times Null was on the mound for Montoursville came in unimpressive performances last spring in the finals of both the Backyard Brawl and the Giles tournament. The latter was against the same Milton team he faced Saturday.
Null didn't make it out of the second inning in either of those starts. But he clearly wasn't the same pitcher Saturday. After an error and a walk put two Black Panthers runners on base to start the first inning, Null retired 11 in a row before issuing a two-out walk in the fourth.
He recorded eight outs in the air, struck out four, and threw 32 of his 55 pitches for strikes.
All of that despite lengthy delays when Montoursville scored five runs and sent nine batters to the plate in the third inning, and added more 10 runs in the fourth. That's why he found himself playing catch to keep his arm loose.
"It can get hard to deal with. You get tight between innings," Null said. "I try to stay loose and maybe throw a little bit. But it helps to score runs because you're able to relax more. You're able to just throw."
"I always tell him he's one of the best players in this area. He's one of the best-kept secrets in this area," Montoursville head coach Travis Wurster said. "Last year on the big stage everyone sees him in the Backyard Brawl and he walks five guys. He's not that kid. He's going to be a fun one to watch over the next two years. Those are the kinds of games he can have."
Null's two rough starts to end the season last spring came on days where the Warriors had played doubleheaders and Null had caught the first game of those doubleheaders.
That won't be an issue now that Cameron Ott (1-for-2, double, RBI, three runs) has returned to catch from a shoulder injury which kept him out most of last season. The combination of the success Null had Saturday with proven ace Pierce Ranck gives the Warriors one of the best 1-2 pitching combinations in the district. It's not far off the combination the Warriors had a year ago with Ranck and Christian Clark.
"We have two No. 1s, I feel," Wurster said. "We can go to them in any spot. Whether Pierce has the experience or not, if it's Andrew's turn to throw, we feel like we're still throwing our No. 1."
It was a rather ominous start for Null who had two bad swings in his first at-bat to fall behind 0-2. But he got his arms extended on the 0-2 pitch which was left up in the zone and drove it on a line out of the park to right field.
There were very few good swings like that for Montoursville hitters in the first two innings against Milton starting pitcher Jeff Levitan. The junior struggled to spot his fastball in his first trip through Montoursville's order, but found ways to get outs.
The second time through the order, though, Montoursville seemed to be sitting on fastballs. The Warriors scored five times on four hits with the help of two Milton errors. Zach Pepperman drove in a pair of runs with a ground-rule double to right, and each of Montoursville's seven, eight and nine hitters - Ryan Mondell, Aaron Cole and Curtis Miller - drove in a run in the inning.
"(Levitan) was having trouble getting ahead with his fastball early in the count," Milton coach Chace Phillips said. "If they're not going to respect his fastball, they're not going to worry about anything off-speed and just sit fastball, and that's what they did."
Levitan got two outs in the fourth inning before being removed after giving up Mondell's second RBI single in as many innings. Montoursville sent 10 more batters to the plate following the pitching change. In fact, the Warriors had 10 consecutive hitters reach base with two outs before the inning ended with a popup to first base.
Mondell, Cole and Miller were a big part of both Montoursville rallies, combining to go 6-for-7 with a double, three runs scored and five RBIs. Null also puncutated his stellar day with a two-run single in the 10-run fourth inning.
"Our whole team can hit, and that's great to be able to do that," Null said. "It means there's less pressure on everyone else when you can get production from everywhere in the lineup."
"It's hard for me to write a lineup, and that's fun," Wurster said. "Our seven, eight, nine guys, it's a pleasant surprise but we know they have that in them."
Montoursville205 (10) - 17 13 1
Milton000 0 - 0 0 3
Andrew Null and Cameron Ott. Jeff Levitan, Neal Hoover (4), Ryan Solomon (4) and Cole Wirt. W-Null. L-Levitan.
Top Montoursville hitters: Ott, 1-2, RBI, 3 runs; Null, 4-4, home run, 4 RBIs, 4 runs; Quinton Kuntz, 1-3, RBI, run; Zach Pepperman, 1-3, double, 2 RBIs, run; Dalton Cristini, RBI; Ryan Mondell, 3-4, 2 RBIs, 2 runs; Aaron Cole, 1-1, double, RBI, run; Curtis Miller, 2-2, sacrifice fly, 2 RBIs, run. Top Milton hitters: None.
Left on base-in scoring position: Montoursville 5-4; Milton 3-1.
Pitches-strike: Montoursville - Null 55-32. Milton - Jeff Levitan 92-54; Neal Hoover 26-7; Ryan Solomon 24-13.
Records: Montoursville (1-1, 1-1 HAC-I); Milton (1-1, 1-1 HAC-I). Next: Milton at Shikellamy, Wednesday; Selinsgrove at Montoursville, Wednesday.