Chipper Benway was a little bit concerned and the Union City head baseball coach had the right to be.
Benway was counting on senior right-hander Justin Jandik to be the leader of his pitching staff, but Jandik had suffered a sprained ankle in the days prior to Jandik’s first start of the season against Ferris.
“He rolled his ankle doing a simple pitching drill, stepping on first base,” Benway said. “Three days later, he was still sore.”
Still, Jandik took the mound against Ferris and Benway could see that his would-be ace just wasn’t right.
“He wasn’t sharp,” Benway said. “He was up in the zone.”
Jandik still managed to get the victory, but he knew that his performance in his season opener was not good.
“I felt like I had no gas,” Jandik said. “Everything I threw was flat and slow. I didn’t feel great. When I was up, I was way up.”
Benway had high hopes for Jandik.
“He was our No. 2 pitcher last year,” Benway said. “He was pitching on the varsity level since he was a sophomore. He’s a program guy. I just figured that with his experience, that he had been through the ringer a few times. He’s the one we knew we could count on from the beginning of the season.”
Last Monday, the Soaring Eagles were set to face Hudson Catholic in a game that would show Benway exactly where his team – and in particularly, his senior righty – stood. Union City was set to face Hudson Catholic’s ace Brandon Pilovsky, one of the best hurlers in the county.
“We don’t have a big horse like Hudson Catholic has with Pilovsky,” Benway said. “We needed a team effort. I think Justin took that a little personal and knew he needed to have to step up for us. We knew we weren’t going to score a lot of runs off Pilovsky.”
Jandik said that he was ready for the challenge.
“I felt like I had to be the one,” Jandik said. “During the summer, I realized that I wasn’t strong enough, so I did a lot of work in the offseason, going to the weight room, working on my cardio. I think that gave me a little bit of an advantage coming into the season. I felt like a different person, a whole new person. I felt like I had more velocity. I felt my curveball was breaking better. I felt like a better pitcher.”
Jandik said that he wanted to have a better outing against the Hawks.
“I really felt like I needed to prove that I had made improvement,” Jandik said. “I realize that I’m a good player.”
Things had totally changed Monday in facing the Hawks.
“When I was warming up, I felt great,” Jandik said. “It was the best I’ve felt in a while. I knew it was going to be a great game for me.”
When the game started, that same feeling prevailed.
“I felt good and confident,” Jandik said. “I was throwing strikes. After the first inning, I knew that I was going to have a good game. I felt like they couldn’t do any damage to me. I just had to keep going.”
Jandik kept right on going, mowing his way through the Hawks’ lineup. Through six innings, Jandik did not allow a single hit, had struck out nine and walked just one batter.
The Soaring Eagles scratched out a single run, but that was good enough. The rain gods forced the game to be called after six innings, but it was still enough to be an official game. Jandik indeed had pitched a no-hitter against Pilovsky and the Hawks, earning a 1-0 victory.
“I wanted to keep going,” Jandik said. “I didn’t want the rainout. I wanted to go the full seven [innings].”
For his efforts, Jandik has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the last week and the first such honoree in the spring scholastic sports season.
When the game was finally called by the umpires after six innings due to the heavy rain, no one knew that Jandik had thrown a no-hit gem.
“I knew it,” Jandik said. “Actually, my catcher [Kevin Perez] and I both knew. It felt good. It definitely gives me a lot of confidence going forward. I know I’m going to have to face the top contenders the rest of the way. I think this proves I can contend as well.”
Benway was proud of the way his pitcher responded.
“I had to put a little of the heat on him,” Benway said. “But I think he challenged himself. It was a big game and he had to decide where he fit in. I think a lot of what we did this year was going to depend on Jandik. He can mix his speeds well. He has a little different motion that throws batters off. He has a lot of confidence in his fastball.
Added Benway, “He matched Pilovsky frame for frame and it’s good to know that he has that ability. He’s our No. 1 pitcher and we need him. If he’s going to give us innings and games like this, then we’re going to be right there when the season ends. We know we’re going to be in games when he’s on the mound with a chance to win and that’s all you want.”
Benway said that Jandik is a quiet, laid back sort of kid.
“He doesn’t say much,” Benway said. “He’s very well liked by everyone in our building.”
A day after his gem, Jandik was back at work, not resting on his laurels.
“He was on the field before I was,” Benway said. “He knows what his job is and gets his work done. He’s just a quiet, level-headed kid.”
Jandik is unsure of his future, except that he would like to study some sort of sports medicine in college, perhaps becoming an athletic trainer.
“I’ve always been a sports guy,” said Jandik, who plays first base, third base and designated hitter when he’s not pitching. “I know that my career in baseball won’t go on past high school, but I want to be able to do something in sports, so sports medicine or athletic training is what I’d like to do.”
Jandik has already begun to take classes in athletic training and works with the athletic trainers at Union City High School.
“I like that trainers keep the athletes healthy,” Jandik said. “That’s what I want to do.”
However, if a college comes along and is interested in Jandik’s services, he wouldn’t turn them away.
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Jandik said. “If it’s in the cards for me, then I would consider it.”
For now, Jandik will be content on being Union City’s “No-Hit Kid.”
“I never expected anything like this would happen to me,” Jandik said. “It feels pretty good.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.