GAINESVILLE — Caleb Clark tried not to think about it.
But as the North Hall junior hurler took the mound for the top of the seventh against East Hall with his first-ever no-hitter within his grasp, it was inevitable.
“I started to think about it the last couple of innings probably. I wasn’t really nervous but I definitely was thinking about it,” he said as the Trojans also were trying to stay unbeaten in Region 7-3A play Wednesday at Jody Davis Field.
He admitted afterwards he probably should have thought about something else.
Clark got Tripp Rider to line out to short to start the inning but Vikings catcher Mike Matuska walked and Levi Crocker singled to right to break up the no-hitter. One batter later Matt Lacey followed with a single knocking in courtesy-runner Dylan Day to end the shutout as North Hall would hold on for an 8-3 win.
Clark went a career-long 6 2/3 innings surrendering two hits, walking four, and fanning seven to improve to 5-1 on the season.
“It would’ve been nice,” he said. “We still got a region win so really that’s all that matters. But, yea, it would’ve been nice.
“I was starting to get behind the hitters and I left it up (against Crocker). The guys played well behind me and that helped.”
North Hall coach Trevor Flow said there was some discussion on whether to bring him out with a chance to finish it off.
“We talked about it after the sixth but he was low on his pitch count and we gave him a shot to go get it,” Flow said. “He looked a little tired (after he sixth) but I thought he threw pretty well. He walked some and hit a guy and maybe if he doesn’t have those extra pitches he gets it in under 80 pitches.”
The Trojans (16-3, 11-0 Region 7-3A) came into the season with just senior Georgia Tech-signee Reese Olson as the only known commodity on the mound. Flow said Clark has solidified the No. 2 spot in the rotation giving them the makings of a potent 1-2 punch to begin any series.
“Caleb has been consistent all year,” Flow stated. “We’ve known about his ability for a couple of years but he was young. This year he’s started to develop into what we thought he was capable of doing. We can see down the road that with Reese and Caleb at the top of the rotation we think we have a formidable combination.”
The perfect game ended after the first batter as Clark hit East Hall lead off batter Cooper on the opening pitch of the game. But he recovered to strike out Trey Campbell and Trevor Rider. Cooper was then gunned down by Charlie Erickson trying to steal second to end the first inning.
The Trojans threatened in the bottom of the first against Vikings starter Trevor Rider as Reese Olson singled and Erickson and Jackson Dyer were both hit by pitches to load the bases with two outs. But Rider got Caleb Wiley to fly out to right to get out of the jam.
Clark then took control facing the minimum with five strikeouts through the first three innings. Rider set down four straight before running into trouble in the third and fourth.
In the third, Clark singled to lead off and stole second. After a strikeout of David Seavy and a Olson groundout moved Clark to third, Rider walked Erickson and then Dyer ripped a two-run double to left-center bringing in both Clark and Erickson. Caleb Wiley then got a bloop single on an East Hall defensive miscue knocking in Dyer for a 3-0 lead.
The Trojans blew it open in the fourth as Clark legged out an infield single, Seavy was hit by a pitch, and Olson walked to load the bases with two outs. Two pitches later Erickson turned on a Rider pitch for a grand slam to left for a 7-0 North Hall lead.
During the two-inning outburst the North Hall offense was 4 of 7 with runners-in-scoring-position. The grand slam was a career first for Erickson. But they finished 4-of-14 with RISP and left nine runners on base and had three at-bats in the sixth to invoke the Mercy Rule.
The win also was the 14th straight for the Trojans, who can clinch a playoff spot on Friday when the two teams return to Rabbittown to close out the series.
“(The home run) was nice to see but really I thought the hits by Jackson kind of broke things open for us,” Flow said. “But we left a lot guys on and had a chance to put it away. I don’t feel like we’ve put a complete game together yet so there is still a lot of room for improvement.
“Complacency is our enemy right now. We have to stay focused.”
The loss for the Vikings (10-10, 5-6) was their fourth straight and dropped them into fifth place in the region standings. However, they already have matched their entire win total from last season and have a huge series next week against third place Dawson County before closing out the regular season against last place Union County.