April 21, 2011

Maxwell High: Small school does big things

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Eric Lay just laughs at his reality. After ten years on the job as head baseball coach at Maxwell (Calif.) High, he thinks everyone would know that his very small school is capable of very big things.

Not so.

So this week, as senior right-handed pitcher Steven Perry goes for a national-record fifth consecutive no-hitter, he's answering all the same questions about the little dynasty he has going in this Northern California town roughly an hour north of Sacramento.

"Yes, we're a small school ... just 40 kids in the senior class - and this is a big class ... just 140 kids in the entire school," he rattles off matter-of-factly with rapid-fire precision.

Perhaps that's the best way to describe Perry's efforts of late. When he pitches on Thursday evening in the second game of the annual Shasta Lake Bass Tournament, he'll do so with a string of 25 consecutive no-hit innings in the book.

And the stuff to add to it.

"He's a pitcher, not a thrower," Lay says. "He throws mid to upper 80s, but he's got four pitches. Outstanding control. He locates in and out. I can't say enough about him."

The general rule in baseball is to not say anything pitchers throwing no-hitters. But when Perry took the mound last Friday in the second game of a doubleheader against Chester (Calif.) High, he certainly was the talk of the area.

"It's unavoidable," Lays says. "It's not like there's someone out there that doesn't know."

The guys in the dugout knew a little more though.

Perry wasn't in top health. He had strep throat the day before and wasn't at full strength. His teammates, Lay says, were determined to keep his streak going.

"They knew he was sick but they wanted to pick him up," Lays says. "But like I said, he's a pitcher, so even when he gets tired, he knows how to handle it."

Handling pressure? That's just something that comes with the territory at Maxwell.

The opening game pitcher, Tyler Wells, took a 28-game winning streak to the mound (that's right, he hasn't lost since his freshman year). He got the win and is now just four away from tying a state record.

The team's best hitter, James Bowen, set a state record of his own for consecutive hits and consecutive plate appearance reaching base last season.

Maxwell, 17-0 this season, finished 31-2 last season - capturing a state sectional title in the process. It was the school's sixth sectional title in eight years, making it a true power in Division 5, the second smallest of the state classifications.

But don't let the size fool you. As Lay proudly points out, his club has beat at least one opponent in all six divisions the past two seasons.

"The people around here know how good we are," he says.

But not everyone is in on the secret. Lay admits he likes playing the Shasta Tournament because it's a chance to show how good his program is.

"This is the kid of tournament where we get some exposure," he says. "We went 4-1 last year and everyone was sort of surprised because we're a small school.

"But this isn't a fluke."

Well, maybe not the program - but Lay admits he may not see the likes of Perry and Wells again anytime soon.

The pair seems to dominate in everything they do. The seniors are both straight-A students and all-around athletes.

Wells played quarterback last fall and led the section in passing. His leading receiver? Perry, who led the section in receptions and yardage.

Wells was named the top basketball player in the area. And while Perry chooses to sit out basketball to prepare for baseball, Lay says the case could be made that he is the better of the two on the court.

Baseball is their best sport, however. Perry is 7-0 and has yet to give up a run in 31 innings. He's allowed only two hits all season. Wells is 6-0 and has yet to yield a run in 30 innings.

Both are great at the plate, too. Perry is hitting .577 with two HRs and 31 RBI ; Wells is batting .630 with seven homers and 49 RBI.

"I could coach another 20 years and maybe not have another kid as good as either of them," Lays says.

Both are getting looks from the area Division 1 programs such as Nevado-Reno, Sacramento State, St. Mary's and Cal-Davis. Cal, which looked like it may be dropping baseball for a bit, has shown interest in Perry, too.

Of course it's nothing like the interest that's been coming since Perry recorded his record-tying fourth no-hitter.

Lay has heard from plenty of media, local and national as Perry attempts to top the mark held by eight pitchers, including John Kukuruda from nearby Nicolaus (Calif.) East High.

Lay says he's more than happy to field the calls. He says it's the only thing Perry doesn't enjoy doing.

"You could talk to him for 10 minutes, but unless he knows you, you wouldn't get anything out of him," Lay says. "He's just all business."

So while Perry - and Wells and Bowen and the others - take care of business, Lay takes care of the publicity.

"People say we're a small school or in a weak division or whatever," he says. "But there are a lot of kids in small kids and weak divisions and none of them are doing this."


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