May 7, 2010

Kukuruda sets Calif. HS baseball record

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Nicolaus (Calif.) East Nicolaus pitcher John Kukuruda threw his fourth-straight no-hitter on Friday night, breaking a long-standing California state pitching record.

And he has the Tampa Bay Rays to thank for it.

Kukuruda was scheduled to start Tuesday night in his team's game at Raley Field, the home stadium of the minor league Sacramento Rivercats.

But, at the last minute, Kukuruda was scratched as the starter and replaced by fellow senior - and a stellar pitcher in his own right - Dylan Culp.

The reason?

"(Their) scout contacted us and said he wasn't going to make it in time for the first inning," Kukuruda said Friday night shortly after setting the record. "So I ended up pitching in relief instead."

Because of the big stage of Tuesday night's game, East Nicolaus coach Dave Deniz said prior to the game he only planned to allow Kukuruda to pitch two innings to give Culp and the rest of the seniors playing time.

That meant Kukuruda would have tied the state record for consecutive no-hitters at three, set by Selma (Calif.) High pitcher Lloyd Allen back in 1967. But he wouldn't have had a chance to break it.

Instead, he took the mound Friday night against Hamilton City (Calif.) Hamilton, streak still intact.

"It was totally a freak reason," Kukuruda admitted.

But he didn't let that faze him, Deniz said of his now record-setting right-hander.

East Nicolaus won the game, 10-0, in five innings. Kukuruda hit one batter, walked one, and had one reach on an error. But he finished with 11 strikeouts.

"He was just working well, getting ahead of batters," Deniz said. "He just dominated tonight."

Kukuruda said that he didn't really even realize he was throwing another no-hitter until the game was almost over.

"It happened so fast," he said. "Each inning was pretty much one-two-three, and I didn't realize it had happened. After the game, everyone was like 'you did it.' "

The kicker? Kukuruda had never thrown a no-hitter prior to the consecutive streak beginning back on April 16.

"I've just been concentrating on throwing first pitch strikes," he said. "I just keep thinking about the next pitch, one pitch at a time. It just makes me keep focused. ... I didn't know I could do it. It's unreal."

Deniz, however, knew that Kukuruda was on fire early on.

"You can tell usually after the first inning what kind of night he's going to have," Deniz said. "Every time he goes out there, you know there's a chance."

Meanwhile, Kukuruda's teammates were excited about witnessing history, but not jubilant. In fact, Deniz even described their reaction as "business-like."

"The boys didn't seem fazed," Deniz said. "It was just another day at the ballpark."

That's because the playoffs start next Friday.

And, despite all of the individual attention he's receiving from the streak to the major league scouts to the collegiate recruiting, Kukuruda said he's got one thing to keep him focused.

"It's been real crazy," he said. "Every single night someone was calling me, whether it was a scout or a college, but I haven't thought ahead. We have a real strong team and a good chance of winning this thing."

With Friday's win, Kukuruda now stakes claim to the new record in California and becomes just the eighth high school pitcher nationwide to throw four straight, including Tampa (Fla.) Mitchell pitcher Patrick Schuster, who performed the feat just last season.

But he's still got a couple more games to go before setting a new national record. That record is six straight and is held by two pitchers - Tom Engle of Lancaster (Ohio) Fairfield Union in 1989 and Chris Taranto of Biloxi (Miss.) Notre Dame in 1961.

Three high school pitchers have thrown five straight no-hitters.

Kukuruda, though, hopes his streak isn't over just yet.

"I'm trying to set the bar high," he said. "If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. I just don't want to let my team down."

If nothing else, he has a new favorite baseball team, even if it is on the other side of the country.

"Go Rays," he said with a chuckle.

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