NEW PORT RICHEY — Even the most polished of baseball players have room for improvement, as the mesmerizing season of Patrick Schuster attests. In roughly two months, Mitchell's lanky left-hander has progressed from unbeatable to downright untouchable.
The 6-foot-2 University of Florida signee tossed his second no-hitter in six days Wednesday afternoon, striking out 10 River Ridge batters in a five-inning, 10-0 romp at the Jim Valentine Athletic Complex. Friday night at Land O'Lakes, Schuster fanned 17 Gators over seven innings in a 2-1 triumph.
"It's just vintage Schuster," Mustangs coach Scot Wilcox said. "I say it over and over again, that's what I've come to expect out of him."
The consecutive no-nos thrust Schuster into rarefied air. Just how often the feat has been achieved locally is unclear; Ridgewood's Erik Bua threw a no-hitter and five-inning perfect game in consecutive starts in 2004.
Wednesday, Schuster (7-0, 0.76 ERA) appeared overwhelming from the outset.
Against a Royal Knights club that had suffered a nine-inning, 9-5 loss to Zephyrhills the previous evening, Schuster fanned seven of the first 10 batters and allowed only one ball out of the infield. He walked consecutive batters with two out in the fourth, then watched the Knights load the bases on an infield error, but notched his eighth strikeout to escape the jam.
Offensively, Schuster got all the run support he would need with Matt Hart's RBI single in the first. The Mustangs (16-3) collected five runs off as many hits in the second, and got a two-run home run from No. 8 hitter Cody Van De Boe in the third.
"His reputation is already to the point where nobody wants to face him," River Ridge coach Jack Homko said. "And as soon as you hear you're facing him, I don't want to say we were intimidated, but several of our kids were."
Nonetheless, Schuster insisted afterward he didn't have the typical zing on his 90-plus mph heater.
"To be honest, it was another one of those days where my fastballs weren't what they should be," he said. "I don't think I prepared myself well. You could hear my dad in the stands yelling at me to throw more fastballs because I was throwing predominantly offspeed pitches. But I knew my fastball wasn't what it should've been."
On this crisp, cloudless day, it was good enough to give him the latest in a constellation of gem performances this season. Count the six innings he tossed in a combined no-hitter with Hart against Central in mid-February, and Schuster has three no-nos this season.
"I was talking to their third baseman (from the coach's box), and he says, 'Coach, it's like this every time he pitches,' " Homko said. "He said, 'For the most part, all we do is stand here.' "
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