Twenty-six outs recorded, zero hits allowed. On March 15, USC starter Kyle Hurt went the first 7.2 innings while Austin Manning recorded the last out of the eighth. For the ninth inning, USC called on their closer, Connor Lunn, to close out the seventh no-hitter in USC program history.
What was going through his mind?
“Honestly, I tried to keep it simple and not look at the scoreboard. I wanted to close the door like any other night,” Lunn said.
Lunn was off to a good start as he recorded the first two outs of the ninth inning via a strikeout and a flyout.
One out to go. However, it was not that simple. Lunn knew the magnitude of the situation.
“Once there were two outs, I was realizing we were doing something special and that getting this last out was more important than anything I have ever done and that I need to execute my pitches,” Lunn said.
Execute his pitches is exactly what he did.
On a 2-2 count, Lunn got his man swinging on a high breaking ball. Lunn then gave two large fist pumps. Game over.
It was the first no-hitter for the Trojans since March 30, 1974.
Keeping his poise in big situations has allowed Lunn to perform very well in the closer’s role this season. To date, Lunn sports a 3.29 ERA to go along with eight saves.
Although Lunn was a starter in high school, pitching out of the bullpen does not change how he attacks hitters.
“My mentality doesn’t shift from starter to closer. I try to see the holes in the batter’s swings from previous at bats and see if I can exploit that,” Lunn said.
While Lunn is having success this season as a reliever, he struggled throughout his freshman year out of the bullpen. Lunn posted a 4.54 ERA and an 0-3 record in 16 appearances.
Fortunately for the Trojans, Lunn has learned from his experiences last year and has found a routine that puts him in the best position to succeed.
“Coming out of the bullpen you have to be able to repeat similar situations many times per week. I think I have found more success this year, simply because I found a routine that gets me mentally prepared each and every day so that I don’t focus on the past or the future, to stay in the present and attack the batter,” Lunn said.
The Gatemen are also fortunate Lunn is hitting his stride as he looks to be an important piece of the Wareham pitching staff come summer time.
Despite his success this year, Lunn knows that he still has room for improvement and believes playing in the Cape gives him a tremendous opportunity to grow as a player.
“I think playing in the Cape League will help me get back to throwing multiple innings and multiple pitches frequently,” Lunn said. “I think the league will push me to improve faster than anywhere else because the talent level is better than anywhere else.”
Lunn believes this so firmly that he is traveling all the way across the country to spend his summer in Wareham. Originally from California, Lunn stayed close to home for college by attending USC.
Even though he’s a west coast kid, Lunn does not think he will have a hard time adjusting to the east coast.
“Although I didn’t travel more than 100 miles to go to school, I have played throughout the east coast, in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and New York,” Lunn said. “So, I don’t expect to have a hard time adjusting to the lifestyle and playing style on the east coast.”
Hopefully for the Gatemen, batters will have a hard time adjusting to him though.