Amidst perfection, Henry de Noble heard him.
A Lawrence fan shouting as the fifth inning got underway.
“You’ve got a no-hitter going, don’t blow it!” he yelled.
The junior pitcher just stared at him, calmly looked back to the plate and retired the next Lawrence batter on a routine pop-up. The Lions fan wasn’t giving him enough credit. More than a no-hitter, Lawrence had yet to put a man on base. For de Noble, it had been 13 up, 13 down.
“I just stared at him a little bit, then I was done with him,” de Noble said. “People are going to be like that, just have to flush them out, clear the mechanism.”
With Michael Sinks’ single to center later in the fifth inning, de Noble’s streak of no-hit innings ended at 11, while his bid for perfection ended at four. But the junior managed to brush it off, pitching a complete-game, two-hit shutout to lead the Indians to the state tournament for the second consecutive year with a 2-0 win Wednesday evening.
“It was a fast, well-played, well-executed game,” Manhattan coach Don Hess said. “Henry — I just don’t know what you can say about him. He continues to compete on the mound. We’re very proud of him, but as a whole, the entire team took it upon themselves in the dugout, on the field, at the plate, to do whatever they had to do to help us be successful tonight. That’s the thing I’m proudest of.”
Jake Priddle provided all the offense Manhattan would need in the bottom of the first inning with a two-run home run over the fence in left-center on a day when Lawrence starter Brandon Bell was almost as effective as de Noble. He left one mistake pitch up to Manhattan’s clean-up hitter, and just like that, the Indians led 2-0. From there, both team’s pitchers put up nothing but zeros.
“That was just an incredible ball game,” Hess said. “Our guy threw well, their guy threw well. (Bell) made one mistake in the first inning and Jake made him pay.”
For de Noble, who threw a seven-inning no-hitter last week against Washburn Rural, sharp command of his fastball and a devastating breaking ball proved to be too much for the Lions’ hitters. Lawrence had several strikeouts on swings at pitches in the dirt from de Noble’s breaking ball.
“Josh was phenomenal behind the plate, again,” Hess said. “Henry had trouble getting his breaking ball out of the dirt sometimes, but Josh smothered everything out in front and we threw three or four guys out at first on third strikes. So Josh continued to do a great job, but across the board, the guys did what was necessary to be successful tonight.”
The game continued a recent streak of close games between Lawrence and Manhattan with state implications. Two seasons ago, the Lions played spoiler by upsetting Manhattan 2-1 at Norvell Field.
“It’s two teams with a lot of pride and one of us is going to break the other one’s hearts,” Hess said. “It’s a tough regional, and anytime we can come out of it moving onto state, we’re very thankful.”
Manhattan managed just four hits on the day, two of which came in the first inning. Lawrence had two hits and just two baserunners, with de Noble not walking or hitting any batters and the Manhattan defense playing well.
“The last two games I’ve pitched were error-free games, and that’s just as big as me throwing well,” de Noble said. “If I can’t trust them, then I can’t throw it. I wouldn’t be able to throw it over the plate without them behind me. It was nice to be able to focus on throwing strikes and let them back me up.”
Despite throwing four perfect innings, de Noble said he never let the circumstances weigh on him more than they should. The end result of going to state was his focus.
“I just tried to keep a clear mind, keep focused one pitch at a time,” de Noble said. “I don’t really let the situation do anything to me — that’s when I start messing up.”
The junior said he Priddle’s two-run cushion after the first inning also helped alleviate pressure.
Hess said the pressure of perfection wasn’t affecting the way his junior ace was throwing the ball.
“If it was, he didn’t say anything about it or show anything,” Hess said. “I think he was focused on the task at hand. I don’t think the base hit was a blessing by any means, because in a close game, you can’t ever think like that. I think he was just focused on taking care of business tonight.”
In the first game, Manhattan beat Topeka High, 11-2, despite a sluggish start.
After giving up a 1-0 lead to the Trojans, Manhattan flipped the switch in the second, getting a three-run triple from Bret Fehr during a four-run second inning, while scoring seven runs in the fourth to put the game away.
Jacob Biller started Game One and was effective, even without his best stuff.
“We weren’t real sharp the first game,” Hess said. “Jake would probably be the first to tell you he didn’t have the velocity or control he’s had in his last two outings. But we did enough. Bret’s bases-loaded triple kind of got us off the schneid a little bit, and we were able to relax and not press.
Manhattan did waste a couple of opportunities to end the game early by run-rule, but in the end, it didn’t matter.
“We probably could have played better at the end, but it’s just about surviving and moving on in a regional competition. It wasn’t the prettiest but it got us where we needed to go.”
Manhattan opens state tournament play on Thursday, May 23, at Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence. With one regional still to be played today, state pairings have not been released. Manhattan could range anywhere from a three to a five seed.
All state baseball and softball tournaments have been moved up a day this year to run Thursday and Friday, with Saturday as a potential rain-out day.