Denny Brady has set such a high standard that an 11-strikeout performance against a quality opponent in the season opener somehow seems like an off day.
That's surely unfair, but Brady has been so good for so long that the sight of a crooked number in the opposing team's linescore looks like a misprint.
"He makes it look easy, but it's not easy," Buena coach Harry Grose said after Brady led the Chiefs to a 5-2 victory over Moorestown on Wednesday in a nonleague clash of Top 11 teams.
Brady pitched a no-hitter through five innings, but surrendered three hits, including Moorestown junior catcher Ryan Gold's two-run home run, in his sixth and final inning on a clear, cool afternoon at Buena's home field.
Brady, a senior righthander and East Carolina recruit, walked off the mound after the inning, muttering into his glove.
"I was happy with the first five innings," Brady said. "But not the sixth."
Grose said Brady was "not sharp" and Buena senior shortstop Marco Rios said his teammate had to "battle through some adversity" on the mound.
"He wasn't the sharpest that I've seen him," said Rios, who drove in a run with a groundout and made a superb defensive play behind relief Andrew Cartier in the seventh. "But he worked through it. That's the big thing."
Moorestown coach Bill Donoghue called Brady "a great high school pitcher" but lamented his own team's less-than-airtight play.
"Too many freebies," said Donoghue, whose team was No. 11 in The Inquirer's preseason Top 20. "Walks, errors, passed balls, and wild pitches. I always look at the differential in those area and I bet they [Buena] were plus-4."
Moorestown senior pitcher Jared Gold, Ryan's older brother, worked the first four innings. The Coastal Carolina recruit struck out four and allowed three runs, two earned - and all of them were manufactured by Buena's signature "small ball."
"That's our modus operandi," Grose said.
Said Rios: "We scratch and claw for every run we get."
Buena, the No. 4 team in the rankings, scored its five runs this way: hit batter, infield out, wild pitch, hit batter, and wild pitch.
"We lost the freebie war," Donoghue said.
Brady struck out the side in the first and had two strikeouts in the fourth, fifth, and sixth. But he said his cut fastball, his best pitch, lacked its usual "late break" and "wasn't as tight as normal."
Brady was 10-0 last season and led Buena to its first state title. He struck out 106 and registered an astounding 0.34 ERA, allowing three earned runs all season.
"Even Clayton Kershaw allows runs," Grose said, referring to the Dodgers ace. "You throw it around the plate, sometimes they're going to hit it.
"It was sunny, but it's not warm yet. His cutter is his sledgehammer and he wasn't feeling it.
"But he still struck out 11 and took a no-hitter into the sixth against a good team. What's that tell you?"
Moorestown 000 002 0 - 2 3 5
Buena 010 202 x - 5 5 1