When Max Lampl left his bullpen session this past Saturday prior to his starting assignment, River Bluff High pitching coach Paul Free had a few words of warning for head coach Mark Bonnette.
“He’s all over the place,” Bonnette recalls Free saying of Lampl’s pitches.
No one, even Lampl, expected to see what happened next. Lampl, a junior right-hander, completed the rarest of baseball accomplishments. He retired all 21 Spring Valley batters he faced, striking out 12. He pitched a perfect game.
Since there are no records of high school baseball perfect games, either nationally or in the state of South Carolina, it is difficult to surmise the rarity of Lampl’s feat. Dennis O’Keefe, a longtime prep baseball umpire, said he called one perfect game in his four decades behind home plate.
Lampl’s perfect game was the first witnessed by Bonnette, who has played or coached baseball for 35 years. Bonnette pitched a no-hitter in high school, but it was not a perfect game.
“A perfect game is pretty unique, no matter what the level,” said Allan Simpson, longtime editor of Baseball America and now a consultant with Perfect Game USA. “It’s a rare feat in itself for a high school pitcher to have developed enough control where he doesn’t walk a single batter over a seven-inning game, much less not allow a single base runner.”
What probably makes the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Lampl’s perfect game more impressive is that he does not possess an overpowering fastball, instead relying on one that reaches 80 mph to go with a solid breaking ball and a work-in-progress changeup.
Most high school perfect games likely come from a pitcher who overpowers batters with fastballs, resulting in the bulk of outs coming from swings and misses. Lampl had to rely on his fielders to make nine outs without an error, and his catcher to dig four third strikes out of the dirt and either tag the batter out or retire him on a throw to first base.
Two of Lampl’s outs came on fly balls. The most difficult play in the field occurred when third baseman Aaron Adams fielded a slow roller and threw to first base for the second out of the seventh inning.
The biggest assist went to catcher Treyce Bouknight.
“We would get to an 0-2 count and we would bury the ball in the dirt and they would swing and miss,” Lampl said. “Treyce did an excellent job of blocking it up and getting it down to first.”
Lampl’s only previous no-hitter at any level came over six innings this past summer for his Carolina Combat travel ball team. He attended Cardinal Newman School from eighth through 10th grade, then transferred to River Bluff this school year to be closer to the friends he grew up with in Lexington.
Lampl threw a bullpen session for Bonnette in July, then showed in fall baseball camp that he likely would earn a spot in the starting rotation. In his first start, against Dutch Fork, Lampl allowed one hit in 32/3 innings while on a pitch restriction.
Then he prepared to face Spring Valley with the same routine he practices before every start. He slept the night before on his bedroom floor at home – to avoid kinks in his back or neck – while listening to country music. It took the first inning on the mound to release all jitters and to calm his nerves.
By the time he had worked four perfect innings, Lampl was getting the traditional silent treatment from teammates in the dugout, where he sat each time in the corner nearest home plate. He was greeted at the dugout following every inning pitched with a one-armed hug from teammate and fellow pitcher Chandler Keith.
When he headed to the mound for the final inning, Lampl was at his predetermined 75-pitch limit, but Bonnette was not about to remove the pitcher with a perfect game going. Lampl eventually threw 91 pitches, the final eight needed to get the last out.
Spring Valley pinch-hitter Brady Bouknight worked the count to 3-2 and expertly fouled off the next two pitches. Lampl then boldly tossed a curveball in the dirt, Bouknight swung and missed, and River Bluff catcher Bouknight threw to first to complete the perfect game.
Lampl was mobbed near the mound and fell to the bottom of the dogpile with teammates on top. He then found his parents, George and Patricia, in the stands and presented them with the game ball. There were pictures that followed in front of the scoreboard.
Before the Lampl family, including sister Maggie, headed to Harper’s Restaurant in Five Points for a celebratory meal, Lampl had to first assist other pitchers in cleaning and tending to the bullpens at River Bluff.
Yes, even the author of a perfect game was still required to perform postgame duties. Word has it that Lampl executed those with perfection as well.