SIOUX FALLS, S.D.--Just over three months ago, Tyler Koch was finishing up his senior season at Georgia State University. On Saturday, he threw the first no-hitter in Sioux City Explorers history.
Koch’s no-no came in the second game of a Sioux City doubleheader sweep over Sioux Falls, and came as the team continues to battle for a spot in Wednesday’s American Association South Wild-Card Play-in game.
The X’s won the first game over the Canaries by a 4-3 score, and took game two, 8-0, behind Koch’s seven-inning no-hit bid.
Koch’s no-hitter is only the 10th in American Association history, but it almost didn’t happen.
After the fifth inning, X's manager Steve Montgomery said that he told Koch that he would be taking him out of the ballgame, due to his rising pitch count.
“You’ve got to credit the kid, because I had a conversation with him after the fifth inning, that I was taking him out. I knew what was going on, and I knew the situation,” Montgomery said. “He looked at me and said he had more in the tank. I didn’t know it was another 50-something pitches in the tank.”
In the sixth, Koch walked a pair of batters and loaded the bases with a throwing error and a pair of walks, but he escaped the jam by retiring Sioux Falls third baseman Zane Gurwitz for the final out of the inning.
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Koch walked two more batters, but struck out Canaries’ third baseman Mike Hart for the first out, and then retired Shamoy Christopher on an impressive backhanded play from X’s third baseman Jose Sermo.
Sermo's gem was one of several sparkling defensive plays from the X's defenders, as right fielder Michael Lang also kept the no-no alive with a pair of sliding catches in the outfield.
The final out of the game came on a flyball to center field from Canaries’ batter Wyatt Ulrich. Once the ball landed in Chase Harris’ glove, the X’s ran out of the dugout and swarmed Koch in celebration.
“You saw the dugout almost sitting in the same seats from the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. No one would move, and no one was talking to him," Montgomery said. "Just all of the superstitious things that go into it, and then it was mayhem. I think the guys beat the catcher to the field, they were so excited for that kid."
Koch was not originally slated to make the start, and was only officially announced as the starter when the lineup cards were brought out before the game.
Toward the end of Game One, Koch warmed up to possibly come in as a reliever, but never got the call. Once X’s closer Brandon Brosher tight-rope walked his way to a save in the first game, Montgomery had Koch continue warming up under the watchful eye of pitching coach Bobby Post.
At first, it looked like things might get rough.
“I said ‘How do you feel?’ prior to Game Two, and he said ‘I want the ball,” Montgomery said. “When I asked Bobby how he was in the bullpen, Bobby goes ‘all over the place.’ I was like ‘Oh my gosh, here we go.’
For Koch, there was never a doubt that he wanted to make the start, even though he knew he wasn't going to be at his sharpest.
“I knew I wasn’t going to feel great, but I kind of just used that as a warm-up, and didn’t really think much about what was happening with my pitches,” Koch said. “Bobby, he said that I probably didn’t even throw a strike. I didn’t think it mattered.”
Koch’s final line was seven innings, with no hits and no runs allowed, six walks, and eight strikeouts.
Koch, a native of Cumming, Ga., didn’t seem all that surprised that he managed to make this particular bit of team history. This past spring, Koch put up a 3.74 ERA in 21 ⅔ innings pitched at Georgia State, and is the only player in program history to be a five-time letter winner.
“I knew that I definitely had the ability to play at the professional level,” Koch said. “I’ve always strived for achieving stuff like this.”
Koch’s no-hitter wasn’t the only X’s milestone from this past weekend. On Friday, Sioux City beat the Canaries 8-4, giving Montgomery his 400th win as the team’s manager.
While it was a big win in his career, Montgomery said that Koch's accomplishment the next night was much more special to him.
“Absolutely the no-hitter,” Montgomery said. “I’m very, very happy and very, very content being the Sioux City Explorers manager. I don’t have any aspirations of managing in the big leagues or anything like that, where this kid obviously wants a shot at affiliated baseball. Hopefully this goes a long ways in getting him that opportunity.”