It didn't take Mercyhurst coach Joe Spano long to see that his pitcher, Dan Altavilla, had something special going.
"I hate to say it but sometimes you just know in the first inning," Spano said. "You just watch him warm up and everything is right there; the curveball wasn't missing his spot, the changeup, you could see it dropping from the dugout. It was one of those days.
"I think his last pitch was still 92 mph. In 30-degree temperature, to throw that hard for seven innings, is pretty incredible."
Altavilla, an Elizabeth Forward graduate who resides in the Greenock section of Elizabeth Township, mowed down Clarion batters for seven innings March 21, tossing a complete-game no-hitter in a 3-0 Lakers victory. It was the third no-hitter in Spano's 15 years as Mercyhurst coach.
"I felt very comfortable with all three of my pitches," Altavilla said. "I felt like I had command with all three. I got ahead with my fastball. I stayed within myself and didn't try to do too much out there. I stayed relaxed on the mound and just had fun. That seemed to work for me all day."
Altavilla struck out 12 in the contest, walked just one and worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning. It was that inning, he said, when he realized he had a shot at a no-hitter.
"I just stayed within myself and found a way to get out of that inning. When I got out of that inning, I felt I had a chance to throw a no-hitter."
In the top of the seventh, Clarion's last chance to spoil the no-hitter, Altavilla faced the middle of the order. He struck out Nick Maskrey and got Derek Danver to ground out to third. He then struck out Josh Ponsoll on three pitches, the last one a fastball looking, to complete the no-hitter.
"He was absolutely dominant and unhittable," Spano said. "The only thing that got in his way was we had a long inning and it was in the high 30s. His hand got a little cold and when he went out to pitch the next inning he hit a couple batters. Other than that he was unhittable."
For his effort, Altavilla, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior right-hander, was named the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Division II pitcher of the week on March 26 along with Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference honors that same week. He also earned PSAC West pitcher of the week for the second consecutive week Tuesday.
In just his second season as a starter for the Lakers, Altavilla has become a dominant pitcher in the PSAC.
He ranks among the conference leaders in just about every pitching category and is in the top four in strikeouts (2nd, 48), opposing batting average (2nd, .150), victories (tied 3rd, 4), runs allowed (tied 3rd, 6) and ERA (4th, 1.34).
For the season, Altavilla is 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA with 48 strikeouts, 8 walks and 18 hits in 332/3 innings. But even those statistics are misleading when you look at the overpowering stretch Altavilla is currently on.
Altavilla has not allowed a run in 21 consecutive innings. Since the season opener when he pitched just 42/3 innings and allowed five runs on five hits and did not get a decision, Altavilla has pitched three complete games in his four starts, worked 29 of a possible 30 innings, has allowed just one run, 13 hits with 42 strikeouts and five walks. His ERA over the past four games is 0.31.
"I've seen his fastball hit 96 [mph]," Spano said. "On an average day he doesn't throw a pitch below 90. He's anywhere from 92 to 95 for most of the game. He throws a mid-80s slider, it's a professional pitch. He pitched in Cape Cod and he came back with a changeup and it's a phenomenal pitch. Now he's a legitimate three-pitch guy."
Altavilla credits his time with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod Baseball League this past summer with a lot of his success this season. Last season as a first-year starter out of the bullpen for Mercyhurst, he went 5-5 with a 5.17 ERA in 12 starts.
"I learned a lot this summer -- just fill up the zone and pitch to contact. I found better ways to fix my mechanics. I think last year as a starter I tried to do too much, I tried to strike everybody out. This year I'm just relaxed on the mound and I have total control of my pitches. I just try to stay loose during the game."
Altavilla ended up 2-0 with Yarmouth, which finished the season 20-22-2. He pitched 201/3 innings in 12 games, with 22 strikeouts, 13 walks and a 3.09 ERA. He now has helped Mercyhurst to a 15-7 start, 7-3 in the PSAC West heading into a doubleheader Friday against Pitt-Johnstown at Mercyhurst Baseball Field in Erie, Pa.
"There was a time when I thought if he was drafted he would be a reliever at the next level," Spano said. "He's made me believe he can be a starter in the big leagues. He can be a starter at the next level. The sky's the limit for him."
Rick Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3789.