Saturday, September 8, 2018

Lakewood advances to SAL finals on the back of Howard's no-hitter

Spencer Howard, image- Jay Floyd
LAKEWOOD, NJ-- Leaving his coaches struggling for words and forcing his tough guy manager to admit he was tearing up, Friday was the best day of Lakewood pitcher Spencer Howard's life.

The right-hander was electric, dominating division rival Kannapolis (White Sox affiliate) in a nine-inning complete game no-hit shutout that clinched a Northern Division Championship and a trip to the South Atlantic League Championship Series for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws.

Howard, a second round draft choice of the Phillies last year, struck out nine, walked one, hit a batter and tossed a wild pitch, but held the Intimidators without a hit or any runs, in an outing that was as impressive a performance as you could see.

Waves of emotions came over everyone at FirstEnergy Park.  Some expressed their joy with excitement and cheering.  Others, like BlueClaws manager Marty Malloy, felt a little different.

"I'm just at a loss for words," Malloy said, as he reflected on Howard's outing in awe from his office after the victory.  "I've got so many things going through my head, different emotions.  I had tears in my eyes with two outs in the 9th inning tonight waiting for him to get that last out."

The BlueClaws scored just one run of their own, but it was enough to come out on the winning side, thanks to Howard's tremendous effort.

The six-foot-three 205-pounder had everything clicking even before he took the mound.

"You could see in his (warm ups) that he had a little extra 'umph' on the ball," pitching coach Brad Bergesen said.  "He was spotting up really good and he carried that right out into the game.  You could see in the first inning that-- you know, you never expect a no-hitter, but-- you could tell he had some special stuff tonight."

In 23 regular season starts with Lakewood, Howard tallied a 9-8 record with a 3.78 ERA with an 11.8 K/9 mark and a .240 batting average against.

The team's radar gun registered Howard's fastball at 100 MPH at times during the contest.  Hearing that he reached triples digits while locking down a trip for his team to the championship round with a no-hitter led Howard to proclaim Friday as the best day of his life while still in the dugout following the final out of the contest.

Knowledge of what sort of momentous outing was developing as the game went on didn't impact what Howard was feeling on the mound.  There were no nerves to battle through or jitters to make adjustments for. 

"I kind of just stuck to my plan I had going into the game from what I saw and what (catcher Rodolfo) Duran saw from the first game.  Just attack with fastball and if they put it in play, great, but just make my pitches when I have to," Howard explained.

Howard and Bergesen embrace following the no-hitter
Bergesen, who had a lengthy pro career as a pitcher at many levels made a point to have both Howard and Duran sign a score sheet for the night.  It will be a valued memento from a special night in his first season as a coach.

"This is probably the best pitching performance I've gotten to watch in person," Bergesen said.  "I've gotten to see (a no hitter) before, by one of my teammates, but what was at stake tonight and to be able to do that at home it was just- I have no words to describe it.  It was just unbelievable."

Lakewood will travel to Lexington to open the best-of-five championship series on Monday.  The series will see games three, four and five (if necessary) scheduled for three consecutive day beginning next Thursday. 


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