What’s the perfect way to extend a winning streak to six games during the crucial stretch run toward the postseason? For Jeff Hayner, a senior pitcher for the Kingston High varsity baseball team, it’s throwing a perfect game.
Hayner, with fellow senior Sam Tremper catching, achieved the rare feat in Kingston’s 4-0 win at Middletown on Tuesday, May 9, striking out five and throwing just 83 pitches. Hayner hit a full count just twice in the win, working his way out of trouble with a fly out in the first inning and a strikeout in the fourth.
Traditionally, pitchers prefer to be locked in and unaware of even the mere possibility they might be making history, with teammates going out of their way to leave them alone in the dugout. But Hayner knew almost immediately, and he used each out as motivation to keep it going.
“I knew I was throwing a perfect game right from the first inning,” he said. “That’s just something that’s always in my head. ‘All right, perfect through one, there you go.’ And I got deeper in the game and thought, ‘Wow, I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing.’ I like the adrenaline. It helps me keep going.”
Tremper, who took over the full-time catching role this season, said he was aware Hayner had a perfect game going from roughly the midway point.
“He had a strong start and I was thinking about that,” Tremper said. “He was just going with the flow and everyone did their job. I was thinking about it since the third or fourth inning. I was thinking about the game, what I had to do, what my job was. I knew everyone would do their job and pull through, so I just knew I had to hold up my end.”
Everyone held up their end, both defensively and offensively. The Tigers jumped out to an early lead when Tyler Kelder singled in a pair of runs in the first, coming home himself on a wild pitch.
Hayner admitted to moments where the magnitude of what was happening might have threatened to get to him, but he kept his head down and kept rolling.
“I got to the seventh inning and realized I was really nervous out there,” he said. “But I kept my composure and everything was working.”
In that final inning, the first batter earned a 2-0 count before Hayner locked in again, evened the count then coaxed a grounder to end the threat. Hayner fanned the final two batters to lock up his own piece of history.
“This is great,” he said. “It’s really going to help us keep our momentum. We’re on a six-game win streak right now. We’re doing really well in the division. We’ve just got to keep our heads and keep going and playing our brand of baseball.”
Tremper said he was proud of Hayner and his teammates, and pleased to be a part of a perfect game.
“It’s so surreal, honestly,” he said. “It’s something that you think about but never something you actually see happening.
The perfect game came one day after the Tigers opened their three-game set with Middletown at Gruner Field with a 7-0 win. Avery Short might not have been perfect on the mound, but he was dominant, striking out 13 and giving up just three hits and one walk in six innings of work. Cameron Ott slammed the door shut in relief.
The Tigers led 2-0 after the home half of the second inning after a bases-loaded walk and a Garrett Warnecke sacrifice fly. The floodgates opened with two outs in the fourth when Tremper blasted a two-run single. After the bases loaded, Jon Kivlan cleared them with a double.
If pitching and timely hitting are Kingston’s one-two punch, it was more than evident in an 8-0 win over visiting Pine Bush last Thursday, when Tyler Kelder struck out four and gave up one walk in a complete game shutout.
The Tigers went up 3-0 in the first inning thanks to a pair of errors and RBI singles from Kivlan and Avery Short, who hit a pair of doubles and singles in the game, driving in three runs.
Though the Tigers have won mostly blowouts during their six-game winning streak, they’ve also had their fair share of nail-biters this season. It’s in those, said Head Coach Mike Groppuso, that the Tigers show their true mettle.
“Close wins are always the true indicator,” Groppuso said. “Blowouts are rare and typically happen due to a very poor performance from the losing team. We have been on both sides as well but learned and have been fortunate enough take advantage of the situations we put ourselves in.”
The Tigers have five games left as of press time, the final four of which will be played on their home turf at Gruner field, starting with a visit from Middletown on Thursday, May 11 and finishing with a non-league battle against Wallkill one week later. After Tuesday’s win at Middletown, Kingston was 12-3 overall, and 10-1 in the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Division I. While the bats have been heating up during the stretch run, Groppuso said the team’s best shot at postseason success lies in the impressive array of pitchers and what their teammates to do back them up.
“They have been solid in their work ethic and approach and unquestionably our backbone along with our defense,” Groppuso said. “I’m fortunate not to have one, but five or six guys who get it and get the most of their ability.”