The Emerson baseball team’s first-ever New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference game was forgettable. The Lions lost 13-1 to the Clark Cougars. The second game of the double header — well, that’s something Emerson College will never forget.
The Lions’ young pitching staff made history when freshman Cal Laird and sophomore Jack Caportorto combined to throw the first no-hitter in school history in a 2-0 win.
“It’s the first no-hitter I’ve ever thrown,” said Laird, who added he has been pitching since little league. “It’s a pretty amazing experience that I was able to do it as a freshman.”
Laird was one of the Lions’ top recruits this year, according to head coach Dave Hanley. The Lions wanted Laird so badly that associate head coach Buddy Hanley — Dave’s son — flew out to Chicago to see him pitch.
“We went after Cal the minute we found him,” Hanley said. “We knew he was going to be an ace, and we knew he was going to be the leader of the staff all four years.”
No-hitters usually occur when a pitcher is throwing his best stuff. That wasn’t the case on Saturday for the Lions’ lefty freshman though, who said his arm felt frozen after the second inning because he wasn’t wearing an undershirt despite the frigid weather. The game time temperature was in the mid-40s.
“Nothing was working for me,” Laird said. “I couldn’t throw my curveball. My changeup was on and off, and I couldn’t spot my fastball for a strike.”
Still, Laird struck out six Cougars, walked six, and hit Clark’s leadoff hitter — the only lefty in the lineup — three times.
Hanley made the call to the bullpen with two outs in the seventh inning after Laird surrendered a four-pitch walk, and then hit the next batter.
“It wasn’t a hard decision at all because it was a 1-0 nothing game,” Hanley said. “[Laird] was toast and we needed to win that game. When I went out to get him, I asked him, ‘Do you even know you have a no-hitter going?’ and he had no clue.”
Hanley handed sophomore Caportorto the ball, but the sophomore said he was more concerned with getting the win than he was with protecting the no-hitter.
“I went into the game basically not even for myself, but for [Laird] and the team,” said Caportoro, who threw 2 ⅓ innings to complete the no-hitter. “C al motivated me to not give up a hit, but more importantly, I just wanted to win the game.”
Caportorto came in and worked out of the jam in the seventh inning, recorded a one-two-three eighth inning, but got in a little bit of trouble in the top of the ninth. Clark’s leadoff hitter reached first base on a throwing error by freshman shortstop Mitch Moormann, and advanced to second on a throwing error by Caportorto. The sophomore struck out the next batter, and then got the Cougars’ second baseman to ground out to third. The Lions were just one out away from history, and the final out is something Caportorto said he will never forget.
“It was a two-seam fastball on the outer half,” he said about the final pitch. “It was bit over the outer half and he rolled it over to second base. I had all the faith in [Cal Ciarcia] to make that play.”
As the Lions move forward in NEWMAC play, Hanley thinks his team can surprise a lot of people.
“Any time Laird or [Caportorto] is on the mound, we have a shot to beat anybody on any given day,” he said. “We have 17 guys on our roster. The problem is a lot of our fielders pitch. We don’t have a lot of depth but I keep telling our guys, ‘Our nine against anyone else’s nine can compete on any given day.’”
The win improves the Lions record to 3-9 on the season and 1-1 in conference play. The three wins are already more than the team had all of last season.