DURANT − Curtis Lilienthal did something special on Saturday, but neither he nor head coach Shawn Dierckx were aware until a congratulatory announcement from Durant baseball's home announcer after the game.
Lilienthal struck out 11 batters and threw his first − and only − no-hitter of his high school career in a 2-0 win over Louisa-Muscatine in the Class 2A district 8 quarterfinals.
Both Lilienthal and his coach "were both so focused on the game we didn't realize it was happening." Lilienthal said that was probably for the best, because it didn't add any pressure to an already pressure packed situation.
The Wildcats managed one run in both the third and fourth innings, one of those coming courtesy of a Lilienthal RBI double, so it would be up to the senior to close the deal on the mound.
"All year our offense has kind of struggled," Lilienthal said. "I've kind of gotten used to the whole it being a close game and trying to maintain a short lead."
As the game wore on, strikeouts became less common for Lilienthal, so he trusted his defense to make plays and began pitching to force soft contact.
"His teammates backed him," Dierckx said. "They made some really good defensive plays to have his back."
However, that was only after they were largely turned into spectators for a large portion of the game. Although his slider wasn't working the way Lilienthal would have liked, he was able to fall back on his bread and butter, the curveball, to put forth the most dominating performance of his career.
"My curveball has always been one of my go-to pitches for years," Lilienthal said. "It's a pitch I'm able to go to when I'm behind in the count just to keep good hitters on their toes."
Although Saturday was his best statistical performance of his high school career, Lilienthal said it wasn't necessarily his best. He remembers feeling like his stuff was better against teams like Cascade and Wilton earlier in the season, although the numbers weren't as good against two of the top five teams in Class 2A.
"He pitched well all season," Dierckx said. "The biggest thing about him is every tough team we've had to play, it never fails, he's always thrown well."
Lilienthal attributes that to his competitive nature. However, another big part of his success is his arm feels much better than it did a year ago at this time.
"Last year I had a problem with my shoulder," Lilienthal said. "It wasn't anything serious, it was just really sore and I wasn't able to throw at full strength all the time."
So Dierckx, who took over the program last fall, made it a point to get Lilienthal stretching and throwing every single day in the offseason.
"When we met last fall he had one of the tightest arms I'd ever come across," Dierckx said. "We talked a lot about as a pitcher you have to be flexible and loose."
Dierckx also knew he would need Lilienthal to not only be healthy but be a leader, because he was one of the few returning players from the 21-8 team in 2017. Although, the Wildcats struggled to an 8-22 season this summer that ended with a 5-0 loss in the Class 2A district 8 semifinals to Wilton.
"I think he had an exceptional season," Dierckx said of Lilienthal, who doubled as the Wildcats' most consistent hitter and pitcher this season. "I see a lot of the little things he does where he goes around and works with other people. He knows what he needs to do, and he's driven because he wants to win."
That doesn't stop with the end of Lilienthal's prep career, as he will head to Loras College in Dubuque to continue his baseball career.