When a baseball pitcher is dealing with perfection, he can become a lonely guy in the dugout.
That’s what happened to Columbia Eagles senior right-hander Brendan Wilhelm on Thursday — and he didn’t mind it a bit.
Wilhelm lost his perfect game on a two-out walk to Dru Johnson in the bottom of the eighth inning, but was able to finish off a nine-inning no-hitter when Columbia pushed across three runs in the top of the ninth of a 3-0 Cahokia Conference victory over the Carlyle Indians.
“About the fifth inning I just thought to myself that I had a perfect game,” said Wilhelm, who struck out nine, walked one and improved to 4-0 this season with a 2.39 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings. “I’m a really superstitious player, so I didn’t say anything or think about it. It was really unexpected, especially against such a good hitting team.”
After Johnson walked, he was thrown out trying to steal second by Columbia catcher Chris Wagner. As a result, Wilhelm faced the minimum 27 batters in nine innings.
Wilhelm had a no-hitter going earlier this season against Wood River when a teammate mentioned it in the dugout. He allowed a hit the next inning.
“This time I could tell all my teammates were being quiet and not talking to me,” Wilhelm said. “I was just by myself and in my own world. It was kind of an eerie silence in the dugout. No one was going to say anything this time.”
Wilhelm was locked into a focused zone most pitchers strive to reach. The only really tough defensive play to help preserve the no-hitter was a diving catch in the first inning by Eagles’ center fielder Cameron Touchette.
“That really set the tone for the game,” said Wilhelm, who kept the Indians off balance by mixing in curve balls and having pinpoint location on his fastballs. He threw only 91 pitches in nine innings despite coming off a three-inning relief stint two days earlier when he picked up a win over Wesclin.
“The plan was actually to throw him five innings, but he kept the pitch count down and kept pounding the strike zone,” Columbia coach Keith Jany said. “He definitely threw more than I wanted him to, but I also wanted him to get a chance for the ‘W’ throwing as well as he was. It was pretty cool to see.”
Carlyle junior pitcher Maverick Taylor was also on top of his game, shutting out the Eagles (11-4) for eight straight innings. Columbia finally broke through for three runs in the top of the ninth on a two-out, bases-loaded triple by Jacob Hill.
“After I lost the perfect game, the no-hitter wasn’t really on my mind,” Wilhelm said. “It was getting another conference win for the team. Once we got the three runs, I was just happy we won the game.”
So were his teammates, who mobbed him on the mound after first baseman Brian Dougherty corralled a ground ball for the final out. Right fielder Patrick McDermott also got a lot of action on fly balls as Wilhelm kept popping the Indians’ up.
“It was up there with the best high school performances I’ve seen,” Jany said. “We were lucky enough to score some runs for him in the top of the ninth and he held on to finish off the no-hitter.
“I don’t think you could ever expect that out of anybody, but he’s a guy that’s going to go out there and compete and try to win every game for you.”
Wilhelm admitted being a bit sore when he began his pregame warmups, but quickly found a rhythm.
“Once I got in the bullpen it just started coming together,” he said.
Wilhelm’s college plans include trying to walk on with the baseball team at the University of Illinois, where he will study aerospace engineering. He ranks 18th in a class of 157 and despite possible opportunities to play at other schools, he is ready to begin the education process.
Not that he’s completely giving up on his baseball career.
“I’m going to walk on and if that doesn’t happen, then I’m going to play on the club baseball team there,” he said.