SCHUYLKILL >> He wasn’t thinking no-hitter at the outset Wednesday afternoon.
Walking the bases full to start the game tends to make a pitcher prioritize other things. Happily for Kevin Cushing and Phoenixville, they were able to overcome that inauspicious opening and put together an auspicious finish to their game with Perkiomen Valley.
Cushing went on to record the no-no, pitching lights out the rest of the way. He was able to get credit for the complete game when the Phantoms went on a scoring tear in their last at-bat to post a 4-0 victory in this Pioneer Athletic Conference divisional crossover pairing at “Doc” Kennedy Field.
“I was thinking it, but Kevin wasn’t,” Phoenixville manager Neil Hartman said afterward. “I wanted us to get out of the inning, then see what happened.”
The Phantom defense stepped up to Cushing’s aid after he walked PV’s A.J. Hansen, Mike Gama and Joe Gorla to start things off. The Vikes’ golden opportunity to help themselves to the lead was dashed when Cushing’s defensive mates turned a double play after he racked up the first of an eventual 12 strikeouts.
“At that point, I was just trying to work out of the inning,” the Phoenix senior recalled. “I felt pretty good once I found the strikeouts. That (double play) got our confidence going.”
Cushing first had to hold his own against the Vikes’ Gama, who dueled him with a three-hitter for five innings of their shutout contest. Then he was in a race against the pitch count, having thrown 90 heading into the seventh … 29 of them coming in the frenetic first.
He got the job done. Two strikeouts accounted for nine of his remaining tosses, and he got the final out going just two pitches over the 100 mark.
“We all knew what was going on,” Hartman said. “He ended up getting through the last hitter.”
Trotting out the same batting lineup that was coming off Tuesday’s 7-2 win over Owen J. Roberts, the Viking bats found themselves handcuffed the rest of the way. They fanned on five of the final six outs and were touched for at least one strikeout in each at-bat.
“I told the kids they had a chance early to set the tone,” PV manager Ryan Hinkle said. “Give credit to Cushing today. He threw the ball well and did what he should.”
The Phantom bats broke up the shutout in the bottom of the sixth, during which Gama was closing in on the 100-pitch plateau.
Trip Shoemaker started things off with a leadoff single to right field, then courtesy runner Justin Blakey stole second base and went to third when Gama was called for a balk. After Cole Brown hit a liner to the mound Gama fielded for an out, Devon Goryl singled to left-center for what proved to be the only run Cushing and Phoenixville needed to claim the win.
Dylan Clark followed with a double that put Gama squarely on 100 pitches. Brandon Fink (2-for-3) then greeted reliever Joe Giunta with a two-run double to left-center to boosted the Phantoms’ lead to 3-0 before Nick Opalkowski followed with a single up the middle to plate Fink, who had moved into scoring position off Quinn Danna’s groundout to shortstop.
“We hadn’t been outside hitting much,” Herman said, “but we’ve been outside since then. We’re staring to realize we’re pretty good hitting.”
Gama’s line for his 5-1/3 innings’ of mound work ended up six hits and three runs, with three strikeouts and two walks. He scattered singles by Luke LeBeau, Fink and Shoemaker through the first three frames and had Opalkowski be the only Phantom to reach third during his stint.
“His pitch count was up, which is why we had to take him out,” Hinkle said. “The first five innings were a pitchers’ duel.”
Cushing noted his curve ball was “on” and he worked in a splitter and changeup. The no-hitter wasn’t necessarily the highest point of his scholastic career — he had a perfect game last season — but the dozen whiffs were.
“I don’t know if I ever had that many strikeouts,” he said.