The air starts to get thicker six or seven innings into a no-hitter. When observers start to grasp the moment, each pitch feels like the most important one of the game.

Ian McCole, a St. Joseph’s pitcher, sat secluded in the dugout during a moment like that last Thursday against St. Bonaventure. His teammates and coaches were well aware of the situation and nobody dared to jinx it.

“It’s one of those experiences where the dugout is fairly quiet,” said 14-year St. Joe’s coach Fritz Hamburg. “Everybody is just kind of looking to see how things are going to unfold.”

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At the start of the ninth inning, a fly ball to left field and a groundout to second base put the Hawks one out away from a McCole no-hitter.

First baseman Matthew Williams had two balls and two strikes before ripping a ground ball past the outstretched first baseman. Thanks to a slight shift against the lefty, St. Joe’s second baseman Liam Bendo was in position to scoop up the ball and fire it to McCole covering first.

His first career no-hitter came in the 18-0 win over the Bonnies in Olean, N.Y. It was the first for St. Joe’s since 2008, two months before Hamburg was hired, and the fourth solo no-hitter in program history. The last St. Joseph’s pitcher to accomplish the feat was Dave Landers on April 27, 1970.

“It started to feel real in like the fifth or sixth inning,” said McCole, a graduate student from Frackville, Pa. “Once you get through the lineup a few times and you look up at the scoreboard you’re like, ‘OK, it’s really happening.’ From there on, it felt like every out was a big out.”

The matchup was the first in a three-game series against St. Bonaventure with postseason implications. Hamburg thought if the cards fell a certain way, the Hawks might need a clean sweep to make the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

The Hawks clinched a spot with the first two wins. But an eventual three-game sweep over the weekend earned them a No. 6 seed and they beat St. Louis, 2-1, Tuesday in the first game of the tournament at Davidson, N.C.

On Wednesday with McCole on the mound, the Hawks (29-24) suffered an 8-4 loss to Virginia Commonwealth.

McCole has become a leader in St. Joe’s pitching rotation in his second year with the team since transferring from Misericordia University in October 2020.

“I think in two years there are things that he’s gotten better and more consistent at,” Hamburg said. “But one of the reasons why we wanted him was he had pitched in the Division III World Series and he’s a competitor when he’s on the mound. Quite frankly, that’s why he’s been our Game 1 starter.”

In the first at-bat of what would become the season’s most important series, McCole walked Bonnies right fielder Garrett Boldt on four pitches.

“Yeah, I did,” McCole said with a laugh. “I had a lot of movement on my ball, it was a little harder to control, but we got it sorted out and things went well from there.”

It was his only walk of the game. He hit two batters and struck out six to accomplish his second complete game. The first came on April 9, 2021, in a 5-1 win over UMass.

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The 6-foot, 232 pound ace got his pitching arsenal under control the rest of the way.

McCole’s go-to pitch is his changeup. He also throws a fastball in the upper 80s and what he says is something between a slider and curveball that Hamburg calls a sinker.

McCole has one recent memory of sniffing a no-hitter. St. Joe’s played La Salle on May 7, 2021, and he didn’t give up a hit through 4⅓ innings. A single followed by a home run put that thought to rest.

The pressure dilutes once the first hit comes off the board. For McCole and St. Joe’s, it only got thicker through the 2-hour, 40-minute contest.

“I think it’s a testament to him that he can handle those big situations,” Hamburg said. “Obviously, in those situations he rises up. I think he thrives a little bit on those situations where we recognize there’s a little bit more at stake. It’s nice to have a guy like Ian who can handle that.”