His curve "wasn't really working." For most pitchers, losing one pitch could make for a disastrous afternoon. For Crossland High School's Paul Ludwig IV, it was just another in a season of challenges.
Ludwig won this challenge as Crossland beat Douglass, 2-1. His line: seven innings, two hits, one walk and 12 strikeouts. But Ludwig also knows about pitching well and losing. Last year against DuVal, in the season opener, he allowed one hit, walked two and struck out 10. He lost, 1-0. In the playoffs against DuVal, he threw a no-hitter, struck out seven, walked two, and lost, 1-0.
"It was the most stunning performance I've ever witnessed," said Crossland Coach Red Fahey. "After the game, I was just speechless."
"Winning the game is important," Ludwig said. "But I can't really do everything. No matter how well I play, if we don't score any runs, we aren't going to win."
"He's the right guy on the wrong team," one observer remarked. "He's great, but the team just doesn't back him up."
This season, Ludwig's ability to handle pressure situations has enabled Crossland to make its mark in the Maryland Class AA Region III playoffs. He threw a two-hitter against Eleanor Roosevelt Saturday as the Cavaliers advanced to the regional final with a 3-0 victory. They met Bowie Tuesday for the championship.
Many consider Paul Ludwig the best player in Prince George's County.
"He is one of, if not the best," said University of Maryland Coach Jack Jackson. When pressed, Jackson added, "From a coach's point of view, you never want to say anyone is the best, but he is."
Ludwig, who in 67 2/3 innings prior to this week had an ERA of 0.72, has given a verbal commitment to attend Big Eight champion Oklahoma State next year. Playing for the Cowboys will give him the opportunity of pitching before crowds of 5,000 to 10,000. Also, all of the Cowboys' games are televised. Oklahoma State Coach Tom Holliday doesn't think that will ruffle Ludwig.
"He's got excellent poise and he's a very strong competitor," said Holliday. "And those two things at this level are as important as anything."
Offensively, Ludwig is batting .380. When he isn't pitching, he plays center field. Although his bat is almost as important to Crossland as his arm, Holliday is interested primarily in Ludwig's throwing.
"He's being recruited as a pitcher," said Holliday. "He could possibly DH, but he definitely would not play another position."
Ludwig, like many youngsters, began throwing the baseball for fun in elementary school. He soon found that he possessed an accuracy far beyond the typical potential.
"I played with the older guys and they all pushed me," he said. "I started doing well and if I beat them, it made me want to pitch more and I figured I could."
While in junior high, Ludwig began quarterbacking as well as pitching for the local boys club. However, after being blindsided in football and tearing a muscle in the back of his knee, he opted exclusively for baseball.
"I figured if I broke an ankle or leg, it would really hurt my baseball."
In four years at Crossland, Ludwig has built a 26-7 won-lost record. Last year he was 6-1 with a 1.34 ERA. Entering this week he had struck out 99 and walked 17 in building an 8-3 record.
"He has sacrificed a lot of summers to get where he's at now," said Fahey. "When other kids were going to Ocean City, he was working at his baseball."
Ludwig, who stands 6 feet tall, isn't physically dominating at 165 pounds. But, according to Holliday, he has the potential to add 25 pounds and possibly another inch.
"His weakness right now is that he isn't a real physical-type pitcher," said Holliday. "He isn't a physical specimen, but he has more of the intangibles that you're looking for."
Those intangibles include composure, intensity and confidence. When Ludwig is on the mound, he's in a world unto himself.
"I love pitching. It's the heart of the team," he said. "You decide whether you win or lose. I love the pressure of it.
"The hardest thing is when you're having an off day and you're not really set and you don't really perform well. But as far as throwing strikes, that's nothing. I'm never worried about throwing strikes."
It's hard to argue with a boast when statistics firmly back it up.
"As far as high school goes, he's a coach's dream," said Fahey. "He can do it all -- throw, hit, run and field."
"When I was younger, I used to come in all the time in relief with the bases loaded, one out and a one-run lead," said Ludwig. "And I would have to throw strikes. It was like I was in the World Series. And when you're younger, if the ball is hit on the ground, there's a good chance the infielders will make an error. I would have to not just throw strikes, but throw the ball by them. So I would bear down and throw harder because I wouldn't want the batters to touch the ball at all."
Ludwig's fastball has been clocked, in miles per hour, in the low 80s. His curve, which Fahey calls "wicked," comes in at 83 and drops at approximately 67 mph. "It gets a speeding ticket on any freeway," said Fahey.
Ludwig's stock is even higher because he is left-handed.
Ludwig is keeping an eye on the professional draft in early June. He expects to be selected, but far down the list. So, is Ludwig pro material?
"He's definitely pro material," said Fahey. "There's no doubt in my mind that he's as good a pitcher now as Mike Brown currently with the Boston Red Sox was when I coached him in the Clark Griffith League in 1979 . I see the same blueprint."
"He's the kind of kid that's headed in the right direction," said Holliday. "He has the right motives and he won't settle for less than success. If the cards fall properly, he should be a success."
"I'm a little bit prejudiced," added Fahey, "but I only wish that every coach could have the opportunity to have a Paul Ludwig."