'Poka pitcher strikes out 21 to earn "Spotlight"
Left-handed junior pitcher Jesus Criollo closed out Loachapoka High School’s 2019 baseball season last week by tying the AHSAA state record for strikeouts in a seven-inning game as he whiffed 21 in an 8-7 win over arch-rival Notasulga.
The win was the only victory of the season for the Indians, who started baseball back two years ago after discontinuing the spring sport. Criollo allowed two hits, walked four. One Blue Devils batter lined out to second and one of Criollo’s strikeout victims reached base safely on a third-strike passed ball.
Criollo joined a very exclusive club of just three other AHSAA pitchers to have 21 strikeouts in a seven-inning game. The last reported with 21 strikeouts was Cody Reed of Ardmore, who whiffed 21 versus Elkmont in a 5-0 win in 2014. Reed was drafted in the second round of the MLB Draft that summer and is now assigned to the Visalia Rawhide in the Class A California League. He currently on the disabled list.
Trey Vice of Westbrook Christian hurled a no-hitter and struck out 21 to beat Fultondale in the 2007 season, and Opelika’s Roy Jackson fanned 21 in a 12-4 win over Benjamin Russell in a 1971 game. Jackson also had five strikeouts in the fifth inning of that performance.
“It was an amazing effort,” said Loachapoka baseball coach Jeff Klein, who just completed his second season as head coach. “He is a left-hander with a good future ahead of him. We have a very young program in a sport where our kids have very little of experience coming in. We’re trying to build the baseball program, and Jesus’ pitching performance was a great way to end the season. We have a long way to go here but we are working to give our kids more experience playing in the summer.”
Loachapoka finished the season 1-8 and was 3-11 in 2018. The seven runs allowed were the fewest allowed all season. Opponents scored no fewer than 13 in the other contests.
“I remind myself to be patient. We started the season with 18 kids and ended with 10. It is frustrating but we are committed to developing this program into one that can be competitive. We’re working hard and are going to get there if we can just stay on course.”
Seven pitchers are in the AHSAA Record Book with 20 strikeouts in a seven-inning game, including Reed, who beat Saint John Paul II Catholic 1-0 with a one-hitter in 2013. Isabella’s Harold Lockhart made the list with an AHSAA state-record 20 consecutive strikeouts in a 1-0 loss to Verbena in 1951. The 20th strikeout victim reached base on a passed ball and came around to score on a throwing error during the attempt to throw him out running to first base. It ended what had been a perfect game for Lockhart at that point.
The AHSAA record for strikeouts in a game was set in 1926 when Fred Sington of Birmingham Phillips struck out all the outs (27) in a nine-inning 10-2 win over Jefferson County (Tarrant). Sington, a prominent businessman who was a key founder of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955.
An All-America tackle at the University of Alabama from 1928-30, he was named to the Associated Press Southeast Area All-Time football team from 1920-1969. He earned the moniker “Football Freddie” after crooner Rudy Vallee wrote a song about him following the Crimson Tide’s 1930 National Championship season and it became a nationwide hit. Sington reached the majors as an outfielder playing seven years with the Washington Senators and Brooklyn Dodgers. He also served in World War II as Lieutenant Commander and then served as a Southeastern Conference football official for more than 25 years.
Nick Mickler of Ragland whiffed 23 in a nine-inning 3-1 win over Donoho in 2000 – a game that registered an AHSAA state-record 38 strikeouts by both teams. Notasulga used two pitchers to strike out 15 Loachapoka batters in last week’s 8-7 contest to give both teams 36 – which is second highest of all time behind the Ragland-Donoho effort 19 years earlier.
Mortimer Jordan’s Zac Blakney also had 21 strikeouts in a 10-inning, 1-0 loss to Walker in 2004. He hurled the first nine innings and the Vikings won the game in the next frame – making him the only pitcher in AHSAA history to strike out 21 and not receive the win or loss decision. Woodville’s Justin Maynard had 21 strikeouts in a 10-inning, 2-1 win over Valley Head in 2006, and James “Eddie” Gordon of Marshall County High School (Guntersville) struck out 26 in an 11-inning, 1-0 victory over Arab in 1953. That game was won in the bottom of the 11th when Frank Wedgeworth ended the game with a rousing solo home run.
Another Guntersville hurler, Evan Holland, set the record for most strikeouts in an inning in 2012 with six in the fourth inning of a 14-3 win over DAR. Opelika’s Jackson (1971) and Mortimer Jordan’s Pat Allison (2002) also had five strikeouts in a single inning.