Joe Vondrachek kicked off his senior season with the St. Croix Preparatory Academy baseball team in impressive fashion.
He fired a five-inning perfect game, but that hardly seems adequate to describe his performance against Brooklyn Center on Tuesday, April 4. In addition to not allowing a hit or walk, Vondrachek struck out all 15 batters he faced in the 33-0 nonconference victory.
“It’s not something you anticipate, but something you dream to do,” Vondrachek said. “It’s a pretty fun accomplishment.”
According to state records compiled by Tink Larson of the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association, only one pitcher has struck out more than 15 consecutive batters in a game — and that took place in 1947 when Pete Bright of Cyrus fanned 21 straight batters from Alberta. Dan Somrock of Ely also recorded 15 consecutive strikeouts against Tower-Soudan in 1964.
It was the first-ever perfect game for Vondrachek at any level, though he did no-hit St. Agnes in a Legion baseball game last summer while pitching for North St. Paul.
“I started thinking about it maybe the second inning, but you don’t want to think about it too much,” Vondrachek said. “I was thinking just trust what you’re doing and keep throwing your best.”
Vondrachek threw 46 of 62 pitches for strikes and started 13 of the 15 batters he faced with a first-pitch strike. He faced just one full count and that came against the final batter of the game, who Vondrachek caught looking on a called third strike to finish off the perfect game in style.
Vondrachek, a University of Dallas baseball recruit, said he trusted catcher Frank White, who relayed the signs from Lions pitching coach Tim Obr.
“I couldn’t have done it without (White),” Vondrachek said. “I don’t think I ever shook him off the whole game.”
SCPA jumped out to a 13-0 lead after three innings and staying focused was a challenge for Vondrachek against an over-matched opponent. Brooklyn Center went winless a year ago and has been outscored by a combined 69-7 in its first three games this season.
Vondrachek also contributed at the plate while delivering three hits and finishing with four RBIs. It was a long wait before trotting out for the fifth after the Lions pushed 16 runs across in the top of the fifth inning.
“Those innings when we were on offense took a really long time and the time between throwing was a little bit of a challenge,” Vondrachek said.
Brooklyn Center hit four foul balls, but none were close to the field of play.
“I felt good warming up, which is always great,” said Vondrachek, who throws a two- and four-seam fastball, curveball and a change-up. “It was a lot of fastballs and mixing in a few curveballs, which felt good, but we kept it pretty simple.”
No-hitters and perfect games are rare, so reminders on the unwritten rules and superstitions are sometimes necessary.
“People were like saying ‘good job’ but nobody tried to mention it,” Vondrachek said. “But one freshman who is new to the team, he mentioned it. Everyone gave him a hard time, but people tried to avoid it.”
No jinx emerged, and it was a fun way to start the season for SCPA, which after playing an independent schedule the past few years will compete in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association this season.
“It was a really good feeling for me and for the team to set that bar high and set the tone right out of the gate and be able to go from there,” Vondrachek said.
After falling to Southwest Christian 4-2 on April 7 and St. Agnes 5-4 on April 11 at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Lions evened their record at 2-2 with an 11-1 triumph over West Lutheran on Wednesday, April 12. Vondrachek took the loss against St. Agnes despite allowing just five hits and one walk with eight strikeouts. Just two of the runs charged to Vondrachek were earned as the Lions committed five errors in the field.
His strikeout streak ended against the first St. Agnes batter, but the Aggies didn’t collect their first hit until after there was one out in the second inning. Vondrachek carried a shutout into the fourth when a misplayed fly ball led to a three-run inning for the Aggies to tie the game.
Vondrachek was pulled after hitting his pitch count in the seventh and St. Agnes pushed the winning run across shortly thereafter.