One had surrendered just one hit through seven innings. The other hadn’t allowed so much as a baserunner.
And yet Dallas’ Lee Eckert and Coughlin’s Chase Nowak kept pitching on Monday, heading into extra innings of a scoreless tie.
Tough luck for two Wyoming Valley Conference juniors? Nah. These two have seen that before. This was one of the more memorable regular season games in the league’s recent history.
Nowak ultimately set down all 24 batters he faced over eight innings. Leroy Fettig made sure it held up for a perfect game with an RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the eighth in Coughlin’s 1-0 win at Hilldale Park.
Hanover Area’s Mike Bugonowicz was credited with a perfect game in 2014. But that was in a five-inning, mercy-rule contest. This was something else entirely.
This was a matchup between two pitchers who have now combined for three no-hitters this April alone. Eckert opened the WVC season with no-nos against Berwick and Lake-Lehman in his first two starts.
And not to be forgotten on Monday was that Eckert had only allowed a solitary bloop single before heading into extras.
“I thought we were gonna be there all night, the way they both were throwing,” Coughlin coach Moe Rodzinak said. “Just a great high school game. A really great game to watch. Both were throwing strikes. Everyone was catching the ball. Only one or two errors. It was great.”
And some well-deserved honors for both pitchers, who have battled to find this type of success on the hill.
For Eckert, injuries were the problem. Just one thing after another during his first two years of high school.
“It’s just amazing how many bad things happened to him,” Dallas coach Ken Kashatus said. “He had a black cloud. It was like Charlie Brown.”
A back injury during basketball season as a freshman pushed back his varsity baseball debut. The following summer it was a torn meniscus.
By the time his sophomore baseball season came around, Eckert was easing his way back into action, getting some JV innings hitting and pitching before getting a varsity start.
Then, in a game at Wyoming Valley West, an early shot back up the middle took one hop before smacking him right in the mouth.
“Cracks a bunch of his teeth. Lip blown open,” Kashatus said. “On the mound, he picks the ball up and throws to first. Went right to the hospital. And I’m looking on the ground out at Valley West’s stadium for his teeth.”
“Oh, I’m not done with the story yet.”
From there, Eckert had to deal with an infection, necessitating that his stitches be removed and sewn back up. Another setback.
But that black cloud finally lifted. And two weeks later, Eckert was back on the mound at Tunkhannock, earning a win in the regular-season finale to earn the Mountaineers a home game in the first round of districts.
“He played all summer injury free. He played all fall injury free,” Kashatus said. “He prepared himself well in the gym. He got his numbers up.”
And he reached a height that many of his talented predecessors at Dallas did not.
“I’ve had good pitchers in the past,” Kashatus said. “(Division I recruits Jordan McCrum, Brian Stepniak and Nigel Stearns), guys who would put up silly strikeout numbers. But they didn’t achieve what he did with one no-hitter — let alone two no-hitters.
“Just think about it. It’s pretty spectacular that he did it.”
The same goes for Nowak’s historic performance on Monday, which featured a killer curveball that helped him strike out eight without a walk.
It would have been easy for Nowak and the Crusaders to get frustrated when that wasn’t enough to get a win after seven innings. After all, it’s been a tough two seasons at the plate for them.
Coughlin scored just 19 runs in 13 WVC games in 2014. Things have improved this spring, but the Crusaders are still averaging only two runs per game at the midpoint of the league schedule. To top it off, Coughlin’s only previous WVC win this season was also 1-0. With Nowak on the mound the whole way.
So when Monday’s game went into extras?
“After seven innings I was saying, ‘What the hell do we have to do to win a game?’ ” Rodzinak joked. “We’ve got a perfect game and we’re still going. I’m scratching my head.”
But, Rodzinak said, the support was there for Nowak the whole way.
Shortstop T.J. Wozniak made the defensive play of the game in the sixth, leaving his feet to get to a ball that was smashed, dusting himself off and throwing to first for the out.
It was plays like that, perhaps, that kept the Crusaders’ hopes up until Fettig’s game-winner.
“They believed it,” Rodzinak said. “They weren’t down. They were really behind Chase. You could see it on the kids’ faces.
“I really hope this game gives them a nice lift. They deserve it.”
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse