With a high leg kick that set off a devastating array of curveballs, sliders and fastballs, Sandy Spring Friends right-hander Zain Bamji saved his best for last in the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference championship Wednesday at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda.
Bamji carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning before settling for a one-hitter in the Wildebeests’ 2-0 win, their second straight conference title. His dominance left St. Anselm’s hitters twisted in off-balance swings or vacantly staring at perfectly painted corners.
“It’s one of the best feelings I can say as a pitcher when you throw that curveball and they duck out the way, fall out of the way and it just cuts right back across the plate for a strike,” Bamji said. “I was hanging on the curveball today.”
After finishing the fourth inning with his fourth strikeout, Bamji took off his hat, pointed at the plate and wagged his finger. He said he heard the batter say he was throwing wild pitches in warm-ups.
“No no, I’m not throwing wild,” Bamji said. “That’s not what’s happening.”
St. Anselm’s third baseman Clay Rosica broke up Bamji’s no-hitter with a fifth-inning single but was left stranded when Bamji struck out the side. The Wildebeests finished 13-2 overall and unbeaten in league play.
When the Panthers (11-3) did put the ball in play, the Wildebeests were error free. After completing high-arcing throws to first to make outs in the first and third innings, Sandy Spring Friends freshman third baseman Kevin Martin fielded a short-hop grounder and ended the game with a throw on a line to first base.
“It was pretty scary when it was coming,” Martin said. “I thought I was going to miss it for a second when it took the hop, but I got there.”
Fielding miscues by St. Anselm’s led to Sandy Spring’s runs. Senior Rohan Sharma hit a first-inning double and scored on a throwing error. Martin helped the Wildebeests double the lead in the fourth when he reached on an error and came around to score on junior Ben Deichman-Caswell’s single.
Freshman Panthers pitcher Carlo Pizzano scattered six hits over six innings and helped turn a 1-6-3 double play to get St. Anselm’s out of the sixth inning. Pizzano gave the Panthers hope for the next three years, but Wednesday belonged to Bamji.
“He had a good breaking ball going. He commanded his fastball well. He got ahead of pitches. That’s the one thing I didn’t do well the first inning,” Pizzano said. “He just kept firing it in there, and it was good stuff.”