Matt Smith had to earn his job as a starting pitcher for Merced early this season.
The Bears senior made a pretty convincing case on Wednesday night, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning before settling for a 6-0 win over Atwater in the Central California Conference opener for both teams in front of a large crowd at Merced High.
Bear Vasquez broke up Smiths no-hit bid with a chopper up the middle with one out in the top of the seventh inning.
Hes been bugging me all year that he wanted to be a starter, said Merced first-year coach Justin Parle. I had him pegged as a middle-inning relief guy. Hes a strike thrower. I thought he would be a guy I could turn to if we had to put out the fire because he can throw strikes.
Hes a senior. Hes a great kid. Hes done everything Ive asked. He threw the ball well in Clovis and earned the spot. Tonight he did what he needed to do. He threw strikes with movement and made them make contact.
Smith struck out only two batters in 61/3 innings. He walked four and pitched around two Merced errors.
I campaigned a little big, I told him I wanted to be a starter, Smith said. There was a disagreement for about a day. I think the only thing I asked was, What do I have to do to be a starter?
Coach said he wanted me to throw strikes. I threw a complete game in the Clovis tournament against Tulare West. Thats kind of when I earned it.
The Bears jumped out early against Atwater left-hander Izaak Hurtado as Patrick Vitato highlighted a three-run first inning with a two-run double.
Derek Alva doubled in Eli Gutierrez in the second inning to give the Bears (5-4 overall) a 4-0 lead.
Alva, Joseph Salmeri, Vitato and Josh May all had two hits for Merced.
As the game went on, the story became Smiths bid for a no-hitter.
Parle wasnt sure how many of his players knew what was on the line.
Obviously, Im not going to say anything, he said. Im not sure if all my guys were aware. Im sure some of them were. Itll be interesting in the coming days to see who knew and who didnt know.
Smith knew early on.
I noticed nobody was saying anything, but I could hear whispers, Smith said. I wanted it. I was nervous as heck in the seventh. I didnt have chills, but I went to pick up the ball and just looked up. I just tried my best to put it in the back of my mind.
After Smith gave up the hit and a walk, Gutierrez came on in relief to get the final two outs to preserve the win.
Merced 2, Buhach Colony 1 (10 innings)
ATWATER -- Madilyn Nickles drove in Chelsea Evans with a two-out single in the top of the 10th inning to lift the Bears (2-0 CCC) to a win.
Nickles picked up the win in relief.