Linganore’s Matt Cunningham was at Senior Week mere days before this. There was sand. There was sun. There was celebrating.
And there was Cunningham on the beach, wearing his baseball glove, throwing with his friend, Colby Patterson — to make sure all that relaxation didn’t dull Cunningham’s edge for the ballgame that awaited.
On Wednesday, on the hill, he was sharper than ever.
A thin-yet-powerful right-hander fresh off that mini vacation, Cunningham hurled an absurdly efficient perfect game in a 7-0 playoff win over host North Hagerstown. He struck out 14, went to just one three-ball count and needed little more than routine defense to dispose of the Hubs and send the Lancers to the Class 3A West final against nemesis Thomas Johnson.
“I knew before the game that I was going to have a day,” Cunningham said by phone Wednesday evening, as cool as could be. “I know when I’m on — and I was on today. I woke up ready.”
He had returned home from the beach Tuesday morning — and went straight to a training session to get himself right. By the time he took the hill in Hagerstown, he had no doubts.
He thought: “I’m not going to lose this game.”
“He had his ‘A’ stuff today,” Linganore coach David Keiling said. “He was challenging batters and keeping them off balance. It was incredible.”
Cunningham, 6-foot-3 and 165 pounds, had geared himself toward this postseason for most of the past year, after having his entire junior season stolen by the pandemic. He spend much of that time working on gaining strength to enhance the fastball in a three-pitch arsenal that features significant movement and a low-90s heater.
He was as confident as ever Wednesday.
“I know I can attack,” he said. “Seventy-one pitches in seven innings? I was going after them.”
And the Hubs were largely flummoxed.
“I thought when he threw 76 [pitches] earlier in the year he would never do that again,” Keiling said.
Cunningham used his slider as his out pitch.
“I don’t think they put the bat on the slider once,” he said.
By about the fourth inning, Cunningham momentarily took stock of the situation.
“I was like all right, they don’t have any hits,” he said. “It ran though my head for a minute.
“But I can’t pitch with that in my head. I thought about it, cleared it and went out and had the same mentality as I did the first inning.”
Between innings throughout the game, Cunningham and catcher Dylan Alnutt strategized about the batters who’d be coming up, something the University of Maryland-bound pitcher said had a huge impact on his performance.
Late in the game, Cunningham went to a 3-0 count for the only time all day before coming back to record the strikeout.
Cunningham and Keiling both mentioned a sharp grounder hit straight at Cam Rokisky that would’ve been a hit had the shortstop been one foot to the left or right. There were also two jam shots corralled by left fielder Josh Sachar and a running catch in center by Brian Stone.
Otherwise, it was mostly Cunningham recording the outs. Aside from those aforementioned plays and his 14 Ks, he fielded three grounders near the mound.
“He couldn’t have done anything better,” Keiling said. “He had 14 strikeouts and three putouts fielding his position. So, 17 of the 21 outs came from him.”
At the plate, the Lancers (7-3) were led by Matt Rosquist, who had three hits with two RBIs.
When the final out was recorded on a strikeout, the Lancers rushed to bombard Cunningham with hugs.
“It was a scene,” he said.
He had never pitched a perfect game before. And he said his previous best effort might’ve been in his most recent outing — a one-hitter against rival Urbana on May 31.
But this one was even better. Technically, it was about as good as it gets in baseball.
As Cunningham drove home afterward, his phone alerted him to a text from a reporter who hoped interview him about the game in a couple of hours. He tossed the cell to his girlfriend, Cassie Nalepa, in the passenger seat. He told her to respond with a confirmation.
“That sounds perfect,” she typed.
It was a good choice of words for the day.