MIDDLETOWN — Junior right-hander Noah Valeriano was unaware that he had taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning, a testament to the concentration and determination he put forth in the Middletown baseball team’s home opener Monday.
A leadoff double by Farmington took care of the no-hitter, but then Valeriano doused any whiff of an Indians rally by striking out the next three batters to finish off a 2-0 Middletown victory — the team’s first after last week’s season-opening 6-5 loss at Platt.
After the one hit allowed, assistant coach Nick Naumann visited the mound with this message: “He was just trying to get me to slow my tempo down,” Valeriano said.
And he did. When Valeriano rushed his delivery, the result was one of his five walks. When he didn’t, he had Farmington looking at or swinging through a lot of good pitches. Valeriano had pinpoint off-speed stuff and a fastball that kept catcher Jake Radziewicz’s mitt popping until the final out.
“I didn’t tire at all,” said Valeriano, who struck out nine and (unofficially) threw 105 pitches. “Toward the middle of the game I had the most confidence, toward the end not as much, but I wanted to finish. I had command of all of my pitches.”
Farmington (0-2) reached base only six times and had only two real opportunities to manufacture runs. Its first five hitters were 1 for 15 against Valeriano. Indians coach Mike McGuire came away with a good deal of respect for how Valeriano handled his offense.
“He was good. He worked ahead (of hitters) and he worked quick and stayed down in the zone,” McGuire said. “Our guys struggled with the spin of his ball. He kept the ball away from our lefties and he worked outside the zone. For us, this was one of those baseball games.”
A thrown-away ground ball two pitches into the game allowed Farmington leadoff hitter Zac Conrad to get to second, but Middletown’s defense recovered when second baseman Luke Radziewicz turned a 4-3 double play and then caught a floater for the third out. Radziewicz also factored in a 6-4-3 double play later in the game.
“I had total confidence in my defense,” Valeriano said. “I always had confidence in the guys behind me.”
The Blue Dragons generated their runs in the bottom of the first. Leadoff batter Kobe Watanabe walked and scored on left-handed hitter Ryan Conklin tailing line drive to left that eluded the dive of Josh Roth. Conklin advanced to third on a flyout and scored on Ben Mrozcka’s groundout.
“The offense gave me an early lead and that got my confidence up, too, and I started to roll through the innings,” Valeriano said.
Middletown had a chance to build its lead in the seventh but ran itself out of the inning on what seemed to be a delayed steal of second. Farmington got that out and another when Watanabe got caught in a rundown between third and home.
For Middletown coach Josh Cofield, the win helped ease the sting of his team’s loss at Platt. Middletown erased a four-run deficit by scoring five times in the sixth against Platt’s bullpen, only to see the Panthers score twice in their half to win it.
Cofield likes the makeup of his 2018 roster and the fact that the players are carrying themselves as a unit at this point in time. On Monday, he started three seniors, four juniors and two sophomores.
“There’s a big difference from this year to last year. Guys are doing whatever is going to get them in the lineup. We’re playing as a team,” Cofield said. “The coaches are harping on playing together, to care about one another and play for each other, be good teammates first.”
Valeriano’s teammates shared in the joy of his shutout by meeting him at the first-base line after the final out.
“Noah has a lot of upside. He’s been progressing year to year and he’s been unbelievable. The more he grows and the more he matures, the better he gets,” Cofield said. “Sometime he rushes and is not as efficient. Once he bears down and takes his time, he’s fine.”