Matt Warren has been a solid pitcher since his sophomore year at Omaha Skutt, but he entered his senior season without one thing — a varsity no-hitter.
After one month, he's already been involved in three.
Warren, a Creighton recruit, pitched a complete-game no-hitter last Friday to lead the SkyHawks to a 7-0 win over Beatrice in the final of the River Cities Conference tournament. He had combined with teammates Nick Turner and Frank Dolphens to notch earlier no-hitters against Elkhorn and Columbus.
"We've had some really good pitchers here over the years, people like T.J. Walz (Kansas) and Zach Herr (Nebraska)," SkyHawks coach Shawn Exner said. "I'd definitely put Matt right up there with that duo."
Warren, a 6-foot-1 right-hander, is 4-0 with a 0.74 ERA and 40 strikeouts. He's been a member of the SkyHawks varsity since 2010, though he missed part of his sophomore year because of a hip injury.
"I feel like I've definitely made progress over the years," he said. "I know that I used to get flustered when I was younger, but now I try to stay more on track."
Exner agreed that Warren has come a long way since his early days at Skutt.
"He used to be a skinny little kid who thought he could blow the ball past everybody," the coach said. "His pitch counts would get really high and that would cost him, but he's learned so much about what it takes to be successful."
Warren made a major impact in 2010 at the state tournament, pitching a three-hitter and striking out nine in a 2-0 win over Gretna. That put the SkyHawks one win from their first state title, but Skutt lost twice to Omaha Gross and came up short.
"Those of us who were on that team remember how much that hurt," Warren said. "We haven't forgotten."
That disappointment helped motivate Warren for his junior year. He led the state in strikeouts with 88 and had a 1.86 ERA to earn first-team All-Class B recognition, but the SkyHawks once again lost out at state.
Exner said Warren and the other returning Skutt players worked harder during the offseason to prepare for this spring. That became obvious in Warren's first start, when he threw six strong innings before giving way to Turner in the seventh for a combined no-hitter against Elkhorn.
One week later against Columbus, Warren was again involved in a gem. He threw the first three innings before suffering a leg cramp, and Dolphens came in to pitch the final two in the game that ended after five innings because of the 10-run mercy rule.
"I hadn't been a part of a no-hitter, and then we had two just like that," Warren said. "I was getting the feeling that this might be a pretty special season."
It became even more special for Warren last week in his no-hitter against Beatrice. He struck out 12 and walked two for the SkyHawks, who boosted their record to 10-4.
"Matt just dominated out there," Exner said. "He's been our go-to guy for awhile, but everything was just extra special that night."
The coach said Warren is tough on hitters because he can throw four pitches — fastball, change-up, curve, slider — for strikes. He can also change speeds on those pitches to make them more deceptive.
"Most pitchers have to rely on one pitch in a critical spot," Exner said. "Matt can throw any of his pitches at any time, and that keeps hitters guessing."
Warren's next start will be Saturday in a home game against River Cities foe South Sioux City, the No. 4 team in Class B. It's possible he might match up against Cardinals' ace Austin Groth, another Creighton recruit.
"I'm hoping he throws that day," Warren said. "I'm pretty good friends with him, and I'm looking forward to when we're both pitching for the Jays."
Exner said the SkyHawks' solid pitching has been a big key to the team's success. That also includes Turner (3-0, 0.00 ERA), Dolphens (1-1, 1.00 ERA), Justin Lange (3-2, 1.72 ERA) and Jake Wiepen.
"Our pitching has definitely been our strength," Exner said. "Hopefully we can keep things moving forward."
Warren, one of 11 seniors on the team, knows how far forward he wants to take the SkyHawks.
"We're all pulling together for that first state title," he said. "It's our main goal this year and something that I know that we can accomplish."
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