Perched atop the mound, Claremore junior right-handed pitcher Bryce Howe was ‘in the zone’ and untouchable Tuesday during the Metro Lakes Conference opener at Legion Field.
Howe needed 54 pitches and solid defense to toss his first-ever varsity no-hitter in Claremore’s 10-0 win over Skiatook.
“Bryce didn’t overthrow and had good command for five strong innings,” Claremore head coach Brent Payne said. “He ‘pitched’ today.”
Coming into the conference opener, Howe said he was a little nervous, especially with his best friend — Matt Whatley — not behind the plate for the first time in eight years that the two teammates had competed on the diamond together.
“With Matt out there, I can relax and there’s not a lot of pressure,” Howe said. “Tonight, though, I give a lot of credit to T.J. (Wood) behind the plate and my defense backing me up. I never expected to throw a no-hitter in my first start of the season.”
Whatley, who is rehabbing an injured back and hopefully expected to return to the lineup after Spring Break, has been an important role model and teacher to junior catcher T.J. Wood.
“Matt’s helped a ton and really kept me positive (on playing a position that I haven’t done since little league),” Wood said.
Through the first three innings, Howe retired Skiatook’s first seven hitters — relying on a mid-80s fastball and a ‘nasty’ curveball.
The towering right-hander tallied four strikeouts in two innings before Skiatook’s only baserunner — Cory Taylor — reached first in the top of the third on a fielding error by Zebra second baseman Dalton Clifton.
Claremore took the 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Howe delivered an RBI-single to center field, scoring senior left fielder Andrew Byington, who reached on a full-count walk.
Payne noticed his players were disciplined and focused in their offensive approach, a lot different from the 6-1 season-opening win last Saturday against Miami.
“We had good at-bats, put the ball in play and made Skiatook throw a lot of pitches, which we were able to get walks that helped produce scoring opportunities,” Payne said.
With Howe (1-0) dominating on defense, the Zebras offense blew the game open in the bottom of the fourth with nine runs on four hits.
Wood’s RBI-single to right field — his first of two hits in the fourth — got the inning going and put Claremore ahead 2-0.
“T.J.’s approach at the plate, taking the pitch to right field and allowing us to score from second base, was a positive and good to see,” Payne said. “Also, Brandon Varnell’s bunt that loaded the bases in the fourth was a very big at-bat.”
Jacob Teague also had an opposite-field single to left in the fourth.
“District games are very important, regardless when you play them,” Payne said. “This is a big win because of who it’s against. Give credit to Skiatook, they are good ball club that was in the 5A state tournament last year.”
Claremore travels to Skiatook at 4 p.m. on Friday, looking for the sweep.