Maumee's Steve Duby stepped toward first base and removed his baseball cap, tipping it in the direction of the person responsible for shattering what nearly was a remarkable accomplishment.
Duby, a junior, was reduced to a slight grin and a nod after Nate Light's two-out bloop single in the seventh inning ruined his bid for a second no-hitter in eight days.
Duby's dancing curve ball coupled with timely hitting from the bottom of the batting order fueled a 6-0 triumph Thursday over Norwalk in a Division I district semifinal at Carter Park. The Panthers advance to the final at 1 p.m. Saturday against Ashland, a 2-0 winner over Anthony Wayne.
Duby struck out 10 batters, just as he did May 10 at Carter Park when he no-hit Perrysburg in a sectional final. His pitches were occasionally erratic, and he fell behind in several counts, but Duby was in control when it mattered most. He logged 65 pitches through four innings, finishing with 109.
"I was going to let him go to 150 if he wanted to," Maumee coach Cam Coutcher said.
A slapper to shallow right-center by pinch hitter Light ruined a special moment. It came on a slider, which Duby coupled with a curve ball to compensate for a fastball that was falling off the strike zone.
"If I'm throwing a no-hitter I'm doing my job for my team," Duby, a West Virginia commit, said. "This time the guy got the hit, but we still got a team win."
As strong as he was, Duby lacked his sharpness from last week. He walked three batters and let another reach base in the fifth when he bare-handed a slow roller and tossed wide to first. He threw three straight balls before fighting back and striking out lead-off hitter Isaac Perry to end the inning. Equally as inspiring was his strikeout of No. 3 batter Dustin Lieber with a runner on third to end the third.
"He's probably one of the best competitors I've ever coached," Coutcher said. "He doesn't care who you are or what the situation is, he'll battle you."
Maumee (17-9) broke open the game in the fourth when No. 8 hitter David McCrum and No. 9 hitter Ray Secondo tagged starter Collin Souter for two-out, two-run singles, widening the lead to 5-0.
"We're a good hitting team, one through nine," Duby said. "They came up big today. That's why we're good."
Although the option is available, Coutcher said he won't pitch Duby in the final. He'll instead hand the ball to senior Billy Laranga, who played shortstop Thursday and drove in the first run on a third-inning double.
"Bill Laranga can beat any team in the state. I know he can," Duby said. "We feel just as comfortable with him on the mound."
As strong as Duby was, one could present a case that Ashland's Adam Schaly was better. The hard-throwing left-hander used a sweeping curve to take a no-hit bid into the fifth inning and record 12 strikeouts of Anthony Wayne batters.
There were many factors that contributed to AW's setback, from base running blunders to a couple of rare errors committed by a sure-thing shortstop. But Generals coach Mark Nell said the primary reason his team didn't advance to play Maumee was the individual toeing the rubber for Ashland.
"Kid's a stud," Nell said. "He keeps you off balance, he's got a great breaking ball. He's a great athlete."
The game ended with an unfortunate scenario for Anthony Wayne. Jake Chipka took off from second on a slow roller by Jordan Nell but was called out after interfering with the third baseman. Had Chipka navigated the baseline, the bases would have been loaded for No. 2 hitter Josh Meyers.
Coach Nell pleaded his case to the third-base umpire but said later he agreed with the call.
Two other base-running misfortunes -- one an act of helplessness, the other a self-induced blow -- doused scoring chances. Ashland left fielder Brock Landrum threw a bullet to home plate to gun down pinch runner Josh Schwerer to end the fifth. An inning later, Schaly caught Tyler Deye leaning at first.
Of the play at the plate, Nell said, "If we did that 3,000 times I'd send him 3,000 times. No mistake at all."
Chipka did an honorable job in seven innings on the mound, striking out seven and scattering nine hits. He was the victim of bad luck in the fifth inning when shortstop Deion Tansel made two throwing errors that contributed to a run. The senior had made a remarkable diving stop to rob a hit up the middle in the first.
Ashland (21-4) ripped three straight singles in the seventh to score its second run.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.