By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There are few special moments as memorable as the one Penn State junior pitcher Steven Hill experienced on Saturday, April 21 at Iowa.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Hill was one retired batter away from a feat rarely accomplished by a pitcher at any level of play: the no-hitter.
The count was one ball and one strike when Hill induced a ground ball to junior
shortstop Elliot Searer, who, charging forward, plucked the ball from dirt,
fired to first and sparked elated chaos beside the pitcher's mound.
"He just chopped it to short," Hill put it simply. "Elliot made a great read on it because the kid was fast, he was left-handed, and threw him out and I went nuts."
It was the first no-hitter by a Nittany Lion since Nate Bump no-hit Duquesne in 1995 and the first ever thrown by a Penn Stater in Big Ten play. The emotions coursing through Hill's mind were hard to put into words.
"Still haven't really found the right answer for it," said Hill. "It's a great feeling and just looking back on it and all the things that could've gone wrong but didn't, it's just hard to believe."
Hill first noticed he was throwing a no-hitter in the fourth inning when he glanced at the scoreboard, as he often does, to check on his performance thus far. The idea was distant at the time, but when the eighth inning rolled around, Hill realized the reality of the situation.
"It was a different kind of nervous in the eighth and ninth," said Hill "It was just an excited, let's just get this over with, thing."
The defense had his back throughout the afternoon. In the seventh inning, senior first baseman Jordan Steranka made a spectacular play on a sharp groundball down the line, flipping it to Hill for the out at first.
Hill had a shaky moment in the eighth after he threw two pitches up in the zone that resulted in a mound visit by pitching coach Jason Bell, who told him that everything he had worked for led up to this moment. As an experienced veteran, Hill knew what he needed to do.
"(The hitters) are feeling as much pressure as me to get a hit," said Hill. "You just pitch your game at that point."
When Hill returned to the mound in the ninth, he knew his team was behind him. With one out, Iowa's Mike McQuillan belted a ball deep to left field. Hill was sure it was a double until senior outfielder Sean Deegan drifted back and made a tremendous catch.
"As soon as Deegan made that play on the ball, which I thought was a for sure double, I was like 'just execute your pitches,'" said Hill.
What makes it challenging for a pitcher to throw a complete game without allowing a hit, or even a run, is because the more a batter comes to the plate, the better he is able to adjust to each pitch. The key to success is location and changing speeds to keep the hitters off balance.
"I like to think that they're still trying to figure me out," said Hill. "Keep them as uncomfortable as possible and just have a good mix of off speed and a fastball, locating a fastball."
When the moment of truth arrived, Hill's accuracy and fastball-changeup combination gave him the advantage he needed to force a groundout and end the game. As the ball flew from Searer's hand to Steranka's glove, the celebration ensued.
"I just threw the glove, just did like an Anchorman sort of leap and I was just ready to jump up and down with the guys," said Hill.
As the players converged, it was senior Joey DeBernardis who reached his pitcher first and embraced him. The range of positive emotions that goes through a player's head at such a moment is virtually indescribable, but one thing is for certain: there is no feeling in the world quite like it.
"DeBo (DeBernardis) was the first and then everyone else was just mobbing," Hill recalled. "It was like a laugh-cry. Just never been so happy in my life playing a sport. It doesn't compare to anything."
Hill loves Penn State and throwing a no-hitter in a Penn State uniform is something he will never forget.
"It means a lot," said Hill. "This is just something that I can have forever and it means the most that it's in a Penn State uniform because I wouldn't have wanted to do it in any other one."
Later in the hotel room, Hill watched SportsCenter Top 10 plays with his roommate junior Cody Lewis, having been informed his no-hitter had made the cut. He never thought his play would make it to number two on the list.
"We didn't expect it to be that high," laughed Hill. "Then sure enough it was number two and we both just screamed and then there was silence as we watched the highlight happen and then we just bear hugged."
With the memory forever encased in the back of his mind, Hill is ready to go back to work on Saturday against Big Ten rival Ohio State.
"I just got to continue to do what I've been doing and that's throw strikes, get ahead of guys and get outs," said Hill.
Happy Valley has found a true champion in the Texas native and Hill's accomplishment epitomizes the Penn State slogan, Success With Honor.