O’Connell is ‘pitcher perfect’ in MCS victory over Windham
By John Bernhardt
When Windham’s Mike Iacono lofted a pop-up near the line between home plate and first base in Thursday’s high school game at Margaretville, there were three Blue Devils’ infielders who might have been able to make the catch. Calling off his teammates, nobody doubted it was Margaretville pitcher Patrick O’Connell who would finish the play. When O’Connell’s mitt closed around the ball, the sophomore hurler had accomplished the improbable, recording the final put out of a pitching rarity, a perfect game. Not a single Windham Warrior reached base against O’Connell during the entire seven-inning game.
“I’ve never seen a perfect game in person,” marveled the Blue Devils’ veteran baseball coach, Rick Funck. In fact, until Thursday, Funck, in his 25th season at the head of the Margaretville baseball program, had never witnessed a no-hit pitched game.
To Margaretville baseball fans, it almost seems like O’Connell is an upperclassman. The pitching ace is in his fourth season of varsity baseball but is only a sophomore. O’Connell added a curve ball to his repertoire this spring, and the new tool paid huge dividends Thursday, bending over the plate to register several called strikeouts. O’Connell struck out 10 Warriors on the day.
Yet, when O’Connell talked about his pitching masterpiece, he expressed surprise at his feat and thanks to his teammates. “No one expects to throw a perfect game. It was surprising. I’ve just started throwing a curve ball this year and usually I have trouble with location, but, it was really cutting through the strike zone today.” The young pitching ace demonstrated pinpoint control, only running the pitch count to three balls twice in seven innings. O’Connell threw only 80 pitches in recording his masterpiece.
O’Connell was complimentary to the defensive prowess of his teammates and the role they played in preserving his milestone. “We had some close defensive plays, and Chris (Costa) was all over the place. He made some play on that pop-up in the sixth inning. That was a major league pop-up,” O’Connell praised when talking about the Blue Devils’ second baseman. The young pitcher also noted the importance of the long stretches of first baseman, Nathan Tuch, in keeping a Warrior from reaching first base.
The early spring season has been almost a fantasy for O’Connell. In recording the perfect game, the sophomore hurler improved his record to 2-0 and ran his hitless innings’ streak to 11. Every inning O’Connell has tossed so far this year has been hitless.
Freshman catcher Jon Fairbairn caught the pitching gem. Fairbairn had a big day at the plate for the Blue Devils going two for three and knocking in two RBIs. Shortstop Ian Williams was another hitting star for Margaretville, slamming two hits, scoring two runs, and knocking in one RBI.
But, the big story was O’Connell and his pitching perfection. The young ace was not aware of his attempt to challenge the record books until the bottom of the fifth inning when all of his teammates began to talk about the possibility.
By the bottom of the final inning, although O’Connell was smiling and acted calm, you could feel the tension everywhere. Third baseman Mitch VanKeuren came up big when Andrew Messina slammed a worm-burning ground ball at the hot corner. The ball skidded along the top of the grass, never coming up, but VanKeuren stayed down, rose with the ball, and fired a bullet toward first. The throw was low and a bit off the bag, but Tuch stretched long to pull it in for the out.
After trying to drag a bunt for a single, but topping the ball foul, Anthony Alesi watched a big O’Connell curve ball pound Fairbairn’s catcher’s mitt for a called third strike and out number two. Mike Iacono’s pop-up would be the finishing touch with O’Connell making the final catch to close the books on one of the finest pitching performances in local high school baseball history.