EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Ryan Jurgiewich wasn’t sure what to expect as he prepared for his team’s recent Class D baseball game against Katahdin of Stacyville.
“Actually I was kind of worried in the beginning,” said the Schenck High School senior righthanded pitcher, “because their coach had them ready to play and when I was warming up my curve wasn’t really working as well as it did in the game.”
Perhaps that angst evolved into extra energy, because Jurgiewich proved to be nearly unhittable as he struck out 20 batters during the Wolverines’ 7-2 victory last Friday.
That’s 20 strikeouts out of 21 total outs — the lone exception a bunt back to the mound by the second batter he faced in the first inning.
“To be honest, that’s the first time I’ve seen something like that,” said Schenck coach John Montgomery. “I played in the mid-’90s and have followed high school baseball since then and I don’t know if I’ve seen that before, striking out 20 of a possible 21 outs.”
The feat won’t go down as a national record. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations that mark belongs to Brett Jennings of Lingleville, Texas, who struck out 24 batters in a seven-inning contest on April 28, 1986 — third-strike wild pitches or passed balls allow batters to reach base after striking out and provide for additional strikeout opportunities.
Jurgiewich, an 18-year-old Medway resident, had no such extra outs as he and sophomore catcher Riley Dionne cleanly handled all 20 of the third strikes.
Nearly as impressive as the strikeout total was Jurgiewich’s efficiency. High strikeout totals typically lend themselves to high pitch counts, but he threw just 105 pitches — 80 for strikes.
“My biggest concern when he’s on the mound is pitch count because he strikes out so many,” said Montgomery. “But 105 pitches with 20 strikeouts is something else.”
Of Jurgiewich’s strikeouts, eight came on called third strikes.
“Probably the ones they looked at were with the curveball and the ones they swung at were mostly fastballs,” said Jurgiewich, who calls his own pitches during games. “With the top of the order I went with more curveballs and with the bottom of the order I just tried to overpower them.
“I wanted to go right after them and I didn’t want to walk anyone.”
Jurgiewich, who struck out eight batters in 3⅓ innings during his first start of the spring against Class C Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, retired the first nine Katahdin batters he faced before the Cougars got their first baserunner on a Schenck error to open the top of the fourth.
Devin McGraw drew the only walk issued by Jurgiewich — after his second and final three-ball count of the game — to open the Katahdin fifth and reached third base on a passed ball and a stolen base. But he was stranded there as Jurgiewich struck out the next three batters on just 10 pitches.
“It doesn’t bother him having runners on base,” said Montgomery of Jurgiewich, who catches or plays shortstop when not on the mound. “He keeps his composure, he’s a very focused baseball pitcher and he goes right at them. He doesn’t fool around.”
Jurgiewich’s no-hit and shutout bids simultaneously ended when the No. 3 hitter in Katahdin’s batting order, Tyson Porter, hit a two-out RBI double in the sixth.
“I knew I was to a point in the sixth inning where I hadn’t given one up and thought about it,” he said. “I know I got behind on the guy I gave the hit up to. It was a solid double.”
Porter scored on an error to pull Katahdin within 7-2, but Jurgiewich then struck out the final four batters he faced.
“I think my pitches got a little better as the game went along,” he said. “I think later in the game I started throwing even a little harder.”
High strikeout totals are nothing new for Jurgiewich, who plays for the Bangor-based Motor City American Legion team during the summer and plans to continue his baseball career at Thomas College of Waterville next year.
He struck out 19 in 7⅓ innings of a 2-1, eight-inning loss to Penquis Valley of Milo last spring, and also had 17- and 15-strikeout performances in 2015.
“He’s always been a pitcher who records a lot of strikeouts,” said Montgomery. “He knows what batters he can go right after with his fastball and he always hits his spots.”
Jurgiewich’s immediate goal is to lead a young Schenck team to a Class D North playoff berth.
The Wolverines, 1-3 heading into Wednesday’s game at Penquis Valley, count Jurgiewich and Garrett Neal as the team’s lone seniors on a 13-player roster that also includes two players with no previous baseball experience and several others with no previous high school baseball background.
“I just try and reinforce things when the coach says something,” said Jurgiewich, the team captain. “It’s frustrating sometimes but you know what you’re coming into and it’s already gotten a lot better. We’ve improved a lot.”