The moment the ball left Jesse Hatfield's bat and rocketed to right field, Oakdale High pitcher Justin Jones slapped his thigh in disgust.
"Before going out to pitch the seventh, I told myself 'Keep getting better, keep getting better,' " Jones said. " I was disappointed with the pitch. I really wanted a no-hitter."
To Jones' amazement, right fielder Nick Vandertuig got the ball on a hop and gunned down Hatfield at first to end the game and preserve Jones' first high school no-hitter.
Pitching, defense and two powerful hits led the state-ranked Mustangs to a 4-0 win over Central Valley in a duel between two of the Stanislaus District's elite pitchers.
Jones, a lefty who is going to Cal, struck out 11 and is 6-0 with a 0.00 ERA. Oakdale's team ERA entering Wednesday's game was 1.05.
CV's Martin Gomez (4-3, 1.80), perhaps the Valley Oak League's best pitcher who is not wearing an Oakdale uniform, fired a five-hitter and had nine strikeouts.
Oakdale (16-0, 7-0), No. 16 in the CalHiSports.com state poll, used two of the hits to score all its runs:
Vandertuig, a junior who is 5-0 and pitches today at CV, hit a two-out, two-run double in the third.
Steve Gratigny, the No. 3 hurler who is 4-0 with a 0.70 ERA, belted a two-run homer over the left-center field fence in the sixth.
"I don't get to pitch often because we've got Justin and Nick, so it felt good to get that big hit," Gratigny said. "Coach had told me to get closer to the plate and deeper in the box, and I got right on his fastball."
That set up the seventh, with a crowd of 100-plus cheering Jones.
He struck out the first two before Hatfield lined it through the right side. Vandertuig fielded the ball on the run and unleashed his throw.
It wasn't even close at first base.
"When I saw Nick get to the ball, with his arm, I knew it was over," said Jones, who kept the Hawks guessing with his dancing curve.
Catcher Eddie McGrath said it was Jones' best effort this season.
"He told me before the game that he felt real good, and Justin's very honest with me," McGrath said. "I could see his curve breaking late and dropping. We mixed in fastballs and just kept them guessing,"