Baseball tradition says that pitchers aren’t supposed to think about it when they get close to a no-hit performance.
But Matt Anderson knew he had the chance to be perfect Saturday. And the Evanston junior took advantage of that opportunity in only the second start of his varsity career.
Anderson pitched a 5-inning perfect game as the Wildkits whipped Maine East 13-0 in a Central Suburban League crossover contest played in the rain in Park Ridge.
The ETHS junior right-hander set down all 15 batters he faced, 6 of them with strikeouts, and only went to a 3-ball count twice during that gem.
“I’ve never even come close to a no-hitter before. But we were scoring a lot of runs in the 4th inning and the rain was coming down, so I knew I had a chance to do it,” Anderson said.
“I was really feeling my fastball and I was hitting my spots well. I found the edges (of the plate) with my fastball and even when I did miss, it was out of the zone.”
A diving catch by center fielder Ben Wilson in the first inning marked the only real defensive help Anderson needed to help the Kits bounce back from Friday’s 2-1 loss to Glenbrook South.
“He was lights out for us, and that was a perfect time for it,” said Evanston head coach Frank Consiglio. “He was just dominant against Maine East. He threw his pitches wherever he wanted to, and he was incredible out there on a really nasty day. Every pitch was down and there was nothing the hitters could do to square him up.
“He was on the black (edges of the plate) most of the time and he was also throwing a plus curveball. That’s pretty tough to beat.”
Anderson’s performance was even more remarkable because he’s spent most of his career coming out of the bullpen for the Kits. He was the first man up in the pen for the sophomore team and his only previous varsity start was a short stint (2 and one-third innings) in a shutout win over DePaul Prep a week ago.
The righty’s reliability and the fact that he’s the younger brother of former ETHS closer Jack Anderson may have pegged him as a reliever right from the start of his mound career. Ironically, the younger brother’s perfecto came on the same day that Jack established a career record for saves at Penn State University.
“I texted him after the game and he was right in the middle of a game himself, but he said he was really happy for me,” said Matt Anderson. “He’s been a huge help for me even though he’s 5 years older. I can’t really say that I became a pitcher because of him — it’s mostly because I couldn’t hit — but we text back and forth after every game and he gives me a lot of great advice.
“I go watch him pitch whenever he’s close by, like at Northwestern or Illinois or Indiana. One thing he’s helped me with is my composure on the mound. He’s always telling me to take a deep breath and stay relaxed. I had a game early this year where I gave up a couple of walks and a couple of hits and I really got rattled. But after talking to Jack, I realized I had to just take my time on the mound and relax. That was a big turning point for me.”
Saturday’s victory could turn out to be a turning point for Anderson and the entire Evanston team. The Wildkits improved to 15-7 overall, but at just 3-4 in league play they face an uphill battle in a bid for the conference championship. On tap this week is a home-and-home series with Niles West and a single game next Saturday at Niles North.
Anderson will be plugged into the starting rotation now with senior Drew Martinson experiencing some arm problems and likely to skip a start or two.
“I was excited to get that start Saturday and I don’t think there’s any more pressure in this situation,” Anderson added. “I don’t really have a preference for either starting or relieving. I just want to get out there as much as I can to help our team.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.