By Nick Giannandrea
College of the Sequoias' Benjamin Pedersen achieved one of baseball's rarest accomplishments over the weekend.
The freshman right-hander pitched a perfect game while leading the Giants to an 8-0 victory at Taft on Feb. 29 to complete a three-game Central Valley Conference series sweep. COS (17-2 overall) sits tied with Reedley atop the CVC at 5-1.
"It was like watching Picasso paint," Giants coach Jody Allen said. "You are watching what he's doing and marveling at what's going on. It was exciting. But at the same time, we're calling pitches and feeling the pressure because we didn't want to mess this thing up."
Allen said he couldn't remember any of his pitchers throwing a no-hitter -- let alone a perfect game -- in his 27 seasons at COS.
For context, there have only been 23 perfect games pitched in the more than 150-year history of Major League Baseball. And there have only been 30 perfect games in NCAA Division I baseball since 1959, 12 of those in seven-inning games and one in a five-inning game.
"It is such a rare feat, and at our level it's probably even more difficult because of the youthfulness of the guys," Allen said. "You could have an error or a walk or a hit batter. It was one of the most exciting things that's happened in my tenure coaching."
Pedersen (Tulare Union High) fired 84 pitches -- 79 fastballs, three sliders and two change-ups -- over nine innings against the Cougars (3-14, 1-5).
Pedersen's 27 consecutive outs involved his entire flawless defense, including six ground outs to shortstop Elijah Munoz (Redwood), four ground outs to second baseman Payton Allen (Golden West), two ground outs to third baseman Isaac Gonzalez (Redwood), one line out to first baseman Flavio Perez Jr. (Hanford), three fly outs to right fielder Donte Valdez (Redwood), two fly outs to center fielder Michael McKernan (Mt. Whitney), one fly out to left fielder Maverick Souza (El Diamante), and nine strikeouts into the glove of catcher Davis Beavers (Redwood).
"It really was a team effort," Jody Allen said. "Definitely a lot of guys got an opportunity and were consistent. And Ben threw a lot of strikes."
The hardest hit ball against Pedersen was a second-inning line drive off the bat of Taft's Tyren Dorrance that likely would have gone for extra bases had Perez Jr. not come up with a diving stop. And in the sixth inning, Allen made a nice back-handed stop on a grounder by Brady Wilson.
On Pedersen's final pitch, pinch-hitter Keesan Vialpando hit shoulder-high one-hopper to Munoz, who bobbled and dropped the ball before recovering in time to get the out at first, setting off a team celebration. Pedersen is now 4-0 on the season with a 1.24 earned-run average and 40 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings.
"One thing about Ben that's exceptional for his age is he's really competitive, but he has a calmness and a determination," Jody Allen said. "He handled the pressure of the situation and the anxiety of the moment really well."
COS gave Pedersen the only runs he would need in the top of the fifth inning as Munoz singled in McKernan and Gonzalez singled in Souza for a 2-0 lead.
The Giants added to their lead in the seventh on Payton Allen's two-run triple, scoring Gonzalez and Munoz. Allen would score on grounder to the pitcher by Casey Miller (Tulare Western) for a 5-0 advantage.
Munoz' two-run single in the eighth, scoring McKernan and Souza, gave COS a 7-0 lead, and Beavers capped the scoring in the ninth with an RBI single that brought home Jordan Hammer (Fowler).
The Giants have won four straight -- including their second straight CVC series -- heading into a showdown with conference co-leading Reedley (13-4 overall).
"I feel like ultimately our goal each week is to win the series, and if you get a chance to sweep, it's good to do that. And we were able to get that done this weekend," said Jody Allen, who's team is tied with Ohlone for the most wins in the state. "We have a lot of people contributing right now. Our pitching has been exceptional and we're playing good defense. There has been a new hero every game."
COS is scheduled to play at Reedley at 2 p.m. March 3rd, at home against the Tigers at 2 p.m. March 5th and back in Reedley at 1 p.m. March 7th.