Usually when you talk about a no-hitter at Sage Hill School, one of its pitchers is involved. Ashwin Chona threw three straight no-hitters, two coming at home, and Brett Super recorded his second in a row at home last week.
This time around, it was the opposing pitcher who had a no-no going late at Sage Hill.
Newport Harbor’s AJ Stefano was an out away from holding the Lightning hitless on Tuesday.
Then Stefano gave up a two-out single, the only hit the right-hander allowed in the Sailors’ 3-0 win.
Stefano came so close to throwing a no-hitter for the first time on any level. He struck out two and walked three.
“It felt great. Sage is a great program coached by some great coaches,” said Stefano, who threw 87 pitches, mostly fastballs and splitters, to earn his first win of the year. “My teammates picked me up, though. They made some great plays in the field, hit the ball pretty well, and scored some runs. My catcher [Clay Liolios] played a great game back there.
“It’s usually [Max] Crabbe [catching], but Clay and I have played baseball together since we were super young. I’ve known him my whole life. He knows how I pitch and I know how he catches. We’re a good duo.”
Liolios, a freshman, also drove in the game’s first run.
The game was scoreless through five innings, as Stefano, usually a reliever, and Super kept the hitters at bay.
In the sixth, Newport Harbor’s Cameron Mahaffy led off with an infield single, and the sophomore moved to second base when Sage Hill was unable to turn a double-play ball. Super, who walked five, intentionally walked Cade Seabold, and on his next offering, Liolios singled to left field to make it 1-0 Newport Harbor.
Newport Harbor (10-9) added two runs in the seventh, three errors helped score the second run. Mahaffy brought in the third run with a single to center field.
“It’s fun to play good teams like that because that’s when you realize what you need to work on, when it comes to close games,” Sage Hill Dominic Campeau said. “If it’s 1-0 in the last inning and we have two guys on, it’s a different story. We missed the cut-off man, made a couple errors, and next thing you know it’s 3-0. They’re nice and relaxed in the last inning. They’re not worried about giving up a run.”
Going into the seventh, Stefano said his heart started racing. He led off the inning by walking sophomore Edward Pelc, before getting Super to popup to second baseman Kyle Carmack.
Sage Hill (16-2-2) almost broke up Stefano’s no-hitter in the next at-bat. Conner Hatz hit the ball toward the mound, and it struck the rubber, bouncing straight up in the air. Stefano located the ball and caught it, and fired the ball to Seabold at first base, barely getting Hatz.
“I heard [sophomore] shortstop [John Olmstead], yell, ‘Air! Air!’” Stefano said. “I looked up and then I just got underneath it. Then I heard my coaches yelling, ‘One! One! One!’ I was very surprised [I got him out] actually.”
Stefano couldn’t get the next batter out to complete the no-hitter.
The right-handed batting Michael Helton went the other way with Stefano’s fastball, singling to right field. Afterward, Liolios came out to talk with Stefano, telling him, “Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re pitching well.”
With runners on the corners, Stefano got the last out.
Stefano outdueled Super (7-2), who went 6 1/3 innings, giving up five hits and striking out five. Super lost his bid at another no-hitter in the third inning. Brad Siegel singled up the middle.
“They’re a very good team and [they have] very good pitching,” Newport Harbor Coach Evan Chalmers said.
For about three years, Campeau said Sage Hill tried setting up a nonleague game with Newport Harbor. Each time it did not work out for some reason or another.
The schools are only seven miles apart. Their first meeting was just as close.
The timing could not have come at a better time for the Lightning. It seems every time Chona or Super takes the mound, either one is coming off a no-hitter.
Most of Sage Hill’s five no-hitters have come against smaller schools. Four of those did not go past five innings because of the 10-run mercy rule.
Some have wanted to see Sage Hill, which won the CIF Southern Section Division 6 title last year, compete against a bigger school. Sage Hill, the Academy League champion, proved it could when it played Newport Harbor, which is from the Sunset League, one of the best leagues around.
“It’s fun coming over here,” said Chalmers, whose Sailors are a Division 2 program. “It’s a great facility.”
Newport Harbor 3, Sage Hill 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
Newport 000 001 2 – 3 6 1
Sage Hill 000 000 0 – 0 1 5
Stefano and Liolios; Super, Chona (7) and Hatz. W – Stefano, 1-0. L – Super, 7-2.