March 17, 2014 10:33:13 PM
It's best for no one to say anything if their team's pitcher is throwing a no-hitter or a perfect game.
The long-held belief is based largely on superstition, but it also is meant to give the pitcher plenty of room to focus on doing what he needs to do to preserve his gem.
The Columbus High School baseball team learned the importance of silence earlier this season when one of the Falcons said something about a perfect game senior left-hander Hunter Mullis was crafting. Unfortunately for Mullis, the baseball gods didn't take too kindly to the Falcons tempting fate and he lost his perfect game.
Mullis' loss turned into a big gain for Bryan Ezell and Javonta Smith. On Friday, the junior left-hander and the senior right-hander threw no-hitters in victories against Ingomar and Potts Camp. For their accomplishments, Ezell and Smith are The Dispatch's co-Prep Players of the Week.
"Both of them did an outstanding job throwing strikes," Columbus coach Jeffrey Cook said. "They were able to locate their breaking balls. They did a great job because we were kind of short-handed. We played seven games in six days."
Ezell struck out six and walked two in a 10-0 victory, while Smith struck out seen and walked four in a 12-0 victory that helped Columbus improve to 11-0.
With senior Trace Lee, Mullis, and Chris McCullough at the top of the rotation, Cook looked to Ezell, Smith, and Kaden Patel to make the most of their chances on the mound. Earlier in the busy stretch, McCullough, Patel, Smith, and Ezell combined on a no-hitter in a 26-0 victory against Raymond. On Friday, Ezell and Smith were solely responsible for their first individual no-hitters. Cook said both pitchers accomplished their feats by getting ahead of batters.
"Javonta is a kid who didn't play last year and worked hard all summer," Cook said. "He has an electric arm. He has a little plus to it and needed to put it all together."
Cook said Smith picked up a breaking ball after the summer season a year ago that has helped him build confidence he can fill a dual role as starter or reliever.
Smith also plays left field and infield when he isn't pitching. He has been a member of the baseball program since sixth grade. He admitted he knew during the course of the game that he had a no-hitter. He said he did his best to keep throwing strikes to stay in control of the at-bats.
"I was feeling it," Smith said. "My curveball was working really well. I also was throwing a two- and a four-seam fastball and a changeup I was trying to mix it up and keep them guessing."
Smith said he didn't find out he had the no-hitter until the fourth inning of the five-inning mercy rule game. He admitted to being surprised at himself for throwing his first no-hitter.
"I didn't think I could do it," Smith said. "I prayed and stayed humble. It was a confidence-booster."
Cook said Ezell also mixed his breaking ball, a split finger fastball, and a changeup to keep hitters off balance. He said Ezell's time with the Golden Spikes travel ball team helped him get valuable innings that has put him in position to make a valuable contribution.
"Last year, he was a guy who was able to come in in some long-relief situations and in some spots starts," Cook said. "He is another guy we're going to have to depend on to make a run. We're just very happy for them."
Ezell has been a member of the baseball program for four years. He also plays first base when he isn't pitching. Even though he hadn't thrown a no-hitter until the Ingomar game, he said he has thought about throwing one. He credited his curveball and his split finger fastball for helping him achieve a first.
"It felt good when coach Cook told me I had thrown a no-hitter," Ezell said. "It was surprising. I felt I pitched pretty good. I didn't do anything special before the game. I work at it a lot and kept my pitches down."
The no-hitters give Columbus four for the season. Looking back to the beginning of the season, Cook said the Falcons have learned their lessons about baseball superstitions. He said nobody talked about the gems in an effort to help their teammates stay focused.
"It was a big surprise," Cook said. "For those guys to come in in spot starts and not to pitch as well as they did but to get a no-hitter, that is kind of rare. ... Our pitchers one through six have been outstanding all year. Kaden Patel got a win the day before and pitched very well against a good Hatley team. Chris has been unbelievable, and so has Hunter. We are expecting big things out of those guys. We know pitching is going to carry us, and we're looking forward to the week."
Columbus will return to action today when it takes on Madison Central in its Class 6A, Region 2 opener in Madison.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.