He boarded the bus an infielder wondering if he would ever pitch a varsity baseball game. Three hours later he reboarded the bus, a pitcher who reached rare air and set a new Central Mountain pitching standard.
Zach Skrtich did not know he would start Monday's game against Williamsport until assistant coach James Gallagher informed him while in transit. This was the chance he wanted so bad. Given the opportunity, Skrtich made sure that ball remained in his hands. Today, it is probably headed for the trophy case.
Skrtich threw a no-hitter in his first high school start Monday, striking out 11 and leading Central Mountain to a 5-0 win in Williamsport's home opener.
Williamsport shortstop Noah Esposito leaps for a throw that never came as he avoids a collision with Zach Skrtich of Central Mountain on a steal in the fifth inning Monday at Logue Field. Skrtich went on to throw a no-hitter on the mound. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"Honestly I really didn't think about it. Once we got to the bottom of the sixth I just really wanted the ball," said Skrtich, who also went 1 for 2 with two walks and two runs scored. "I pitched a lot in Little League and then last summer I started pitching again and it's something I want to keep doing. I worked a lot this offseason and was just anxious to get on the mound and prove what I can do."
Here's thinking Skrtich starts again. If Monday's performance is any indication, he could give Central Mountain (3-2) quite a deep pitching staff.
The junior right-hander was a late replacement for shortstop Cayden Stover, who was battling a finger injury. Skrtich had shown promise in practices and the coaching staff was optimistic. But anyone who says he saw a no-hitter coming is either a prophet or is lying.
"I was expecting him to do well, but this is icing on the cake. I wasn't expecting him to finish the game like that," Central Mountain coach Mike Kramer said. "He wanted it and he just went after it. What a way to come in and make a statement about wanting to pitch."
Central Mountain scored four second-inning runs and it soon became apparent that lead looked more like 40-0 on a blustery day. Skrtich made it so, striking out three of the first five batters he faced and growing stronger as the game progressed. A right-hander with an unorthodox motion that hides the ball, Skrtich struck out six over the last three innings and fanned nine different batters, including eight Williamsport starters.
The Millionaires (3-3) drew five walks and Skrtich hit three batters, but he never buckled. Mixing a deceptively fast fastball and a nasty curveball, Skrtich kept Williamsport off-balance and struck out the side in the fifth and sixth innings. He threw 106 pitches, impressive in his high school debut and ended the game by recording his 11th strikeout.
Skrtich stranded eight baserunners and did his best pitching whenever it looked like Williamsport might break through, letting only one runner move past second. A pitcher Kramer originally thought would be a strong middle reliever might become a reliable starter.
"Zach is one of the hardest workers that has ever gone through here. He's prepared himself to be ready for this time and I'm very pleased and happy for what happened to him," Kramer said. "He deserves everything he gets. He got the start and he showed us that he deserves it again."
"Whenever I get guys on bases I just feel like I lock in even harder than when there are no guys on base and that helps me get out of those situations," Skrtich said. "I came in with confidence. I just tried to throw strikes and pound the mitt and work the hitters."
As exhilarating as the outcome was for Skrtich, Williamsport found it equally frustrating. The Millionaires lost their second straight and have struck out 24 times in those losses while scoring only one run.
Williamsport could generate no offense but also struggled mightily on the bases and in the field, running into two flyball double plays and making three errors while making several other mistakes that do not show up in the boxscore.
"I know they're better than that, they just didn't show it. They are down in the dumps right now," Williamsport coach Dave Howe said. "They couldn't give me any answers to what's wrong afterward. They just have to find some heart, find some leaders. They have to find somebody that can step up and take charge."
Central Mountain took its 4-0 second-inning lead without an extra-base hit. Skrtich scored on an error before Clayton Butler (2 for 4) scored on a second straight potential double-play grounder. A Talon Falls fielder's choice produced another run before Ryan Yost hit a timely two-out RBI single.
Skrtich added another highlight to his day when he stole home in the fifth inning for the final run on a first and third pickle play. Butler singled him to third before doing his job on the ensuing play, allowing Skrtich the time to score.
"Central Mountain played flawless. I know Mike Kramer and he always puts out a good team," Howe said. "We have to find nine kids that want to play ball. That's what I told them, I need nine guys that want to play for me."
The Millionaires wanting the chance to be one of those nine, only needed to look into the opposing dugout to see how one grasps an opportunity. Skrtich waited for his moment and then owned it.
"I'm just ready to get back on the hill," Skrtich said. "We play Jersey Shore Wednesday and I just want to get out and play again. We celebrate the win today and forget about it (Tuesday) and get back at it."
C. Mountain040 010 0-5 7 0
Williamsport000 000 0-0 0 3
Zach Skritch and Ryan Yost. Davey Ludwikowski, Kyle Hoover (6) and Isaac Foust. W-Skritch, (1-0). L-Ludwikowski, (1-1).
Top CM hitters: Skritch 1-2, 2 BBs, 2 R; Clayton Butler 2-4, R; Yost 1-2, RBI.
Records: CM 3-2. Williamsport 3-3.