Benton pitcher Jordan Shaffer saw teammate Aaron Henigan’s one-run performance in a Class 4A first-round win, then Shaffer raised him a no-hitter in the second round.
Elite pitching has aided the Tigers in what’s been a memorable season already, and the stakes are higher Monday when No. 4 Benton (28-8) hosts No. 5 St. Michael (23-9) in a 4 p.m. quarterfinal showdown.
It’s Henigan’s turn to sweeten the pot in Monday’s start.
“We have a competition, (Shaffer and I),” Henigan said May 1 after the first-round win. “We’ve been having a strikeout competition since our sophomore years, so it’s pretty fun.
“I have three pitches that I throw for strikes, and the change up and curveball are my best pitches.”
Henigan (9-1, 1.61 ERA) has 76 strikeouts in 65 innings, holding a slim lead over Shaffer, who has 74 strikeouts but in just 51 1⁄3 innings. Shaffer (7-2) has a 1.77 ERA this season.
Henigan struck out against No. 29 South Terrebonne in an 11-1 five-inning win, in which he allowed one run on four hits.
“If one of us has 10 strikeouts one day, the other one wants 11 the next day,” Shaffer said in a recent interview. “We always want to one-up each other but also give each other advice and help each other out.
“Henigan gets a lot of ground balls and strikeouts, and he likes to use his curve. I’ll go to him and say, ‘How is my curve looking today?’ I throw a little harder than him, so he’ll ask me how his fastball is looking and what kind of movement is on it.”
Shaffer, who also pitched just five innings in Tuesday’s no-hitter against Northwood, will be fresh as a relief option along with Aaron Sheppard and Jackson Rutledge.
Benton coach J.D. Stephens loves the different pitching options available, especially deep in the playoffs.
“With Shaffer being a shortstop, too, it’s great for us that he only threw five innings because then you can manage pitch totals,” Stephens said. “We’ll take five-inning playoff games in a heart beat.
“We’ll do our homework round by round … and we’re fortunate to not have to rely on one arm. Our guys will be going into their second start around 60 pitches while others may be going into their third start at around 300 pitches.”
Sheppard (5-2), who also doubles as a catcher, actually has the lowest team ERA among regular pitchers with a 1.22 in eight appearances (46 innings).
Rutledge (2-2) has been in pressure situations before, including earning a save at Minden in a key District 1-4A contest.
“They can come in at any time of the game because they’ve thrown strikes all year,” Henigan said. “We have all the confidence in the world in them. It’s nice to have four pitchers.”
A Benton win would send the Tigers to the state tournament for the first time since 2007 (Class 3A runner-ups).
In 2013, the Tigers advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.
“We’ve never been (as players), and it would be pretty special,” Shaffer said of state tournament appearance.. “I’ve been playing with these guys for five years, and they’ve been playing together for their whole lives. You can’t match that.”