YORK TWP. — It certainly qualified as one of the tamest no-hitter celebrations in high school baseball history. That’s mostly because Eli Kraus sets expectations extremely high.
The Kent State recruit met them Thursday and made history in the Patriot Athletic Conference showdown of the year.
Final score: Buckeye 5, Keystone 0. The Bucks (15-7, 11-2) are officially in the driver’s seat for the Stars Division championship with three games to play.
“It’s kind of a relief we got that out of the way,” said the mild-mannered left-hander, who had one-hitters against Clearview and Firelands earlier in the year and four-hit the Wildcats on April 22. “But it’s bigger that we got a huge win against a great team. It’s awesome to get the no-hitter and everything, but I couldn’t have done it without the defense and offense.”
Kraus, who has been scouted by the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros, walked two and his defense committed two errors. Once his nerves settled down in front of a boisterous crowd after throwing just 34 of his first 62 pitches for strikes, he was locked in and retired 11 of the final 12 batters.
When Kraus struck out pinch hitter Chad Lowman to complete the no-no — it was his 10th strikeout — he smiled from ear to ear, casually walked toward the dugout and extended his arms into the air a la Rocky Balboa when a teammate gave him a bear hug.
High-fives ensued, though the star junior was more concerned with helping his team inch closer to its first league title in four years.
“It was huge for the team, really,” he said. “We needed this win to help us get to the PAC (Stars Division) championship. We played great, great defense, and we had great hitting. We jumped out early against a great pitcher (Marcus Gunter) and took what we needed.”
Kraus is 6-0 with a microscopic 0.31 ERA — his only earned runs came during in a frigid doubleheader against 19-win Wadsworth, a school twice Buckeye’s size — to go with 84 strikeouts in 45 innings.
Against the three-time defending division champion Wildcats (17-7, 10-3), Kraus lost the perfect game early by walking No. 3 hitter Tyler Gullett, but struck out Gunter to end the threat.
In the third, Pierce Young reached on an error and eventually moved to third on a wild pitch. Kraus again got out of a jam by striking out Gullett, who has more than 40 RBIs on the season, after Gullett missed breaking up the no-hitter on a groundball that barely rolled foul of the third base bag.
Keystone’s final two runners — Kendle Steiner in the fourth and seventh — failed to advance past first base.
“He had me off-balance,” said Gullett, who had the best at-bats against Kraus. “I was thinking fastball and he came with the curve, and vice versa. He’s just a good pitcher.”
Buckeye took advantage of Gunter’s lack of control, as he walked six and hit two batters while throwing 105 pitches over four innings. Joe Bruening smacked an RBI double to deep right-center that scored Robbie Nonamaker (two runs) in the first, Kyle Friel added a bases-loaded two-run single in the second and Nonamaker scored shortly thereafter on a wild pitch.
The Bucks’ final run came in the fourth on a Nico Galizio RBI single up the middle.
Once the offense put the game out of reach, the focus turned to Kraus, who is 3-0 with a 0.32 ERA lifetime against Keystone.
The Wildcats didn’t have an answer.
“It’s stinging right now. It definitely stings,” Gullett said. “We just came out flat and they came out ready to play. We just couldn’t find it.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.