Senior Sam Schweickhardt struck out Thomas S. Wootton High School's final batter to complete her first-ever perfect game, exhaled and cracked a slight smile as she walked toward Montgomery Blair's first-base dugout -- doing her absolute best to restrain her excitement.
“It was kind of a shock, because I've never done it before,” Schweickhardt said. “So I wanted to make sure it really was a perfect game, because that would be the most embarrassing thing, to celebrate it and it not be a perfect game.”
Only when Schweickhardt saw Kara Madden, her longtime teammate, gleefully running at her from third base did Schweickhardt let loose, jumping up and down and giving high fives.
During the final inning of Blair's 4-0 win Thursday, Madden repeatedly shouted, “Close the door!” Schweickhardt tried to block it out, a battle she had been fighting internally all day.
Every time she pitches, Schweickhardt said she thinks, “This could be the game.”
Eventually, though, her goal changes from a perfect game to keeping the no-hitter alive or retiring the side in order or getting the next batter out.
Thursday, her goal never changed.
Again and again, she said she tried to convince herself, “It's nothing. It's no big deal. Just go pitch after pitch, batter after batter.”
How often did she need that self-reminder?
“Oh my God! Schweickhardt said. “Every pitch!”
When Schweickhardt came to bat, though, her emotions calmed. Her fourth-inning groundball scored Annie Pietanza, who had tripled, and gave Blair a 1-0 lead that Blair coach Louie Hoelman called as secure as a one-run lead could be. Schweickhardt added to the advantage in her next at bat, launching a ball over the left-field fence.
“I knew it was far, but I figured that with my luck, it would've gone foul by like 10 million miles,” Schweickhardt said.
Not Thursday. Everything broke her way.
Schweickhardt struck out 13 batters -- including the side in the first inning and seven of Blair's first eight hitters -- but that meant eight Blair hitters put the ball in play. Each time, Schweickhardt's teammates made the out.
None of those plays was more worrisome than Emily Boring's bunt down the first baseline with one out in the seventh inning. But Pietanza fielded the ball and fired to second baseman Michelle McGhee, who was covering first.
That left only Toria Tan between Schweickhardt and a perfect game.
Schweickhardt fell behind 2-1 in the count, a rare time she trailed Thursday, and received a gift when Tan chased and missed a high fastball.
Hoelman watched, both nervous about the outcome and confident in Schweickhardt.
“That's the best game I've seen her pitch,” Hoelman said. “I think it was because she was throwing hard and hitting her spots, both together. And I think she had great control of her changeup.”
Not totally.When Schweickhardt warms up, her changeup is one of the last pitches she throws. But because Wootton was taking infield practice near her by the time she was ready to throw it, she didn't want to grant her opponents an early view of the offspeed pitch.
That meant Schweickhardt essentially threw her first changeup of the game cold, and it bounced to the plate, “which is kind of embarrassing,” Schweickhardt said.
She figured it out, though, and frequently struck out Blair hitters with the pitch.
So, holding a 2-2 count against Tan, Schweickhardt saw the sign for a changeup. She also heard a call from Wootton's dugout: “Watch the changeup.”
She didn't hesitate.
“You can't have a pitch when there's doubt in your head,” Schweickhardt said. “And of course, I went for it, because I'm stupid.”
Tan swung and missed, ending the game.
Schweickhardt, shortly before she confirmed with Hoelman that someone had saved her the game ball, remained the last Blair player cleaning the dugout.
“Do you need help?” a teammate asked from afar.
“No,” Schweickhardt called back. “I've got it.”