Back-to-back no hitters. Unbeaten on the mound. A school record for single-season victories. Not a bad varsity debut for Fridley freshman pitcher Evan Shaw.
But then, pitching success runs in his blood. Shaw is the third generation of standouts, after maternal grandfather Jack Hoppe and uncle Dennis Hoppe.
Sixty years ago this spring, Jack helped the University of Minnesota win its first NCAA baseball title. Dennis set the Fridley record with nine victories in 1986 and later pitched for the Twins’ minor league affiliates.
Now it is Evan’s time. Handed the ball for Fridley’s first game, Shaw, 15, recorded a victory. The lefthanded pitcher completed the regular season 9-0, tying his uncle’s record. Shaw struck out 62 batters in 53 innings pitched. He allowed 12 walks and posted an ERA of 1.98. Opponents batted .223 against Shaw.
As section playoffs begin this week, Shaw will play a big role in how far the Tigers advance. Pressure? Shaw doesn’t seem to mind.
“He’s just so steady,” Fridley coach Dan Nalepka said. “He’s poised, he’s consistent and he throws strikes.”
When an umpire rules otherwise, Shaw shows a glimpse of defiance.
“He’ll pause on his follow through for a couple seconds,” said Jack Hoppe, who engaged in similar silent protest pitching for Paynesville in the 1950s. Hoppe said his grandson’s flawless pitching mechanics and even temperament belie his tender age.
“My dad and my older brother taught me not to show any emotion out there,” Shaw said. “If the other team gets a hit off you and they see it affected you, they will jump all over you.”
Lately it’s Shaw who is in command. He created expectations for varsity success by playing well with older teammates on Fridley’s VFW team last summer.
Carson Hauge, the captain and lone senior on a roster with 10 sophomores and three freshman, worried his final varsity season would be a rebuilding year. But led by Shaw, the Tigers (14-5) have played with bite.
“Everyone on this team always wants to win,” Hauge said. “Last year there were only four or five guys who felt that way.”
Admiration grew as Shaw hurled a no hitter against Brooklyn Center, then again in his next start against Concordia Academy of Roseville.
Shaw, 6 feet, 140 pounds, said he did not realize what was happening against the Centaurs until the fifth inning. When it became clear he was working on a no-hitter, Shaw understood why teammates were giving him longer looks while talking quietly among themselves.
The second no-no started with Shaw hitting the game’s first batter with a pitch — “It barely grazed the kid’s foot,” Hauge said. Then he started dealing. Fastball. Changeup. Slider. All three were humming.
“In the fourth inning, my catcher, Adam Craine, said, ‘Hey Shaw, you’ve got a no-hitter going,’ ” Shaw said. “I said, ‘Dang it. If you jinxed it, I’m going to be mad.’ ”
Both game balls are in his bedroom, near a Joe Mauer poster and game balls from two perfect games he threw in youth baseball.
Other than Craine’s faux pas, Shaw has escaped much freshman grief. Team manager Eddie Riddle nicknamed him “Lil Bub” after the cat who became an Internet hit.
“You look at him and he’s this little freshman and he’s so adorable,” Riddle joked.