COAL CENTER – It was a day of firsts for California senior pitcher Josh Luko.
Until this season, the right-hander struggled with his command at times and was the Trojans’ third pitcher in the rotation. In his final season of high school baseball, Luko has found his way. He pitched five scoreless innings Wednesday, struck out three batters and pitched a no-hitter to help lead California past Carmichaels, 14-0, in a Section 1-A matchup.
It was the first no-hitter of his career and as the Trojans were gathering their equipment following the game at Malden Yards, Luko was surprised with his first career dunking. The players tossed three gallons of ice water on his head to congratulate him for the accomplishment.
“That’s a first too,” Luko said as he ripped off his soaked jersey. “It’s been a great couple of years, and to win a game against them like this is awesome.”
While California (3-0, 8-0) benefited by Luko’s presence on the mound, Carmichaels (2-1, 4-1) was left shorthanded by the absence of senior starting pitcher Brandon Lawless, who was ruled ineligible after an incident at school earlier in the week.
Attempting to piece together a pitching staff proved to be difficult for Carmichaels head coach Scott Van Sickle. The Mikes started Billy Bowlen, who is a third baseman, and his lack of experience in big games showed early. In 2 1/3 innings, the senior walked seven batters and allowed five runs on just one hit.
Carmichaels used five different pitchers and they combined to walk 13 batters. The first of Bowlen’s walks gave the Trojans a 1-0 lead in the second inning, which ended with a 6-4-3 double play, but the senior got into trouble in the third. Bowlen walked the first three batters of the inning before surrendering a two-run single to Trojans senior center fielder Aaron Previnsky.
California added five more runs in the third, included a three-run triple by senior catcher Jake Columbus, who went 2-for-3 with four runs batted in. It was all Luko would need.
“(Luko) has come a long way,” California first-year head coach Nick Damico said. “He’s really grown into a pitcher, and with three pitches he can consistently throw for strikes, he’s tough to beat. He’s attacking the strike zone.”
Luko, who went 5-2 with 42 strikeouts and a 3.60 ERA as a junior, has walked only one batter in 21 innings.
The offensive onslaught by the Trojans gave them a 9-0 lead heading into the fourth inning, when they continued to give the Mikes’ pitchers headaches.
When Damico was told Lawless would not be pitching for the Mikes, he informed his team to make the opposing pitchers work for every out by being patient. His message: make the pitcher throw them strikes. It rarely happened as California only needed seven hits to score 14 runs.
“We knew they are a different team without Lawless on the mound,” Damico said. “The goal was to take a lot of pitches and it worked well. Plus, some guys had some big hits for us.”
Carmichaels allowed a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fourth and sophomore Casey Zajicek followed with a single before first baseman Nathan Luketich came to the plate. The 6-2, 230-pound freshman drove an outside pitch over the right fielder’s head for a two-run double.
California added three more runs to take the 14-0 lead and Luko, who added two RBI, sat the Mikes down in order in the top of the fifth to end the game. If it weren’t for an error in the fourth inning, it would have been a perfect game for the senior.
VanSickle, who is friends with Damico, joked that the California coach owed him one after the teams split their season series last year, when Damico was the Trojans’ pitching coach.
“I don’t care who pitches for your team, if you don’t get a hit, you’re going to lose,” VanSickle said. “(Luko) pitched great. He had a ton of movement on his pitches and he didn’t allow a hit. Welcome to California.”