NEW PORT RICHEY — At times Tuesday, it was hard to determine which was happening with greater frequency: Mitchell lefty Patrick Schuster fanning a Gulf hitter, or Mustangs shortstop Ryan Garton yawning.
"It was one of the most boring games I ever played in," Garton, also a pitcher, said with a chuckle. "I was sitting here chit-chatting with my second baseman the whole time because we're not getting any plays.
"And after the third inning, I knew they weren't going to start hitting the ball ever."
Such was the backdrop for one of the most dominant pitching performances in Pasco County history. One player's monotony was another's masterpiece.
A lanky (6 feet 2, 165 pounds) junior with braces and a fledgling brown goatee, Schuster struck out 20 in a 10-3 romp, tying the county record set by Pasco's Don Porter in a state tournament win against Avon Park in 1957. At one point, Schuster struck out 14 of 15 and nine in a row.
Only one batter went down looking, a testament to Schuster's curve — buoyed by a wind blowing in — that seemed to drop as if it fell from a coffee table just as it reached the plate.
"They were just chasing ridiculous stuff," said Schuster, who allowed four hits.
According to Orlando Sentinel reporter Buddy Collings, an archivist of Florida prep records, Schuster fell two shy of the state mark of Baldwin's Steven Keen. In that no-hitter against Orlando Lake Highland 15 years ago, one batter reached on a passed ball on a third strike and another on a wild pitch on a third strike.
At least three others have struck out 21, Collings said.
Entering Tuesday, Schuster hardly seemed poised to join that elite fraternity.
First, the temperature dipped into the 40s. Between innings, Schuster sat between Chris Wenstrom and Jake Shellenberger, who literally squeezed him to keep him warm.
Additionally, Schuster, pressed for time, bypassed his typical pregame meal (salad) for popcorn chicken and macaroni and cheese from a supermarket deli.
"When I got into the game, the ball wasn't doing anything that it usually does. It wasn't quick or anything," said Schuster, 5-2 with a 1.11 ERA.
"So I went straight to my curveball in about the third inning and stuck with it. I know a lot of the kids (on Gulf's team), and I know they chase stuff. So I threw a bunch of curveballs to the kids I knew. And lower in the lineup, I could throw just fastballs."
The result was equal parts tantalizing and testimonial. A day later, Schuster spoke of his brother Shane, who died in September 2002 from a juvenile form of bone cancer at age 22. Patrick wrote Shane's initials on his cleats before taking the mound.
Then, he etched himself a place in local sports lore.
Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or [email protected]