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In all of his nearly two decades at this, Ukiah High School’s Gary Venturi, last year’s All-Empire large schools softball coach of the year, had never seen anything like it.

Cardinal Newman’s Lexie Raasch, the talented pitcher who has been slinging it on the varsity squad since she was a freshman, was in near total control.

Raasch, now a senior, pitched all seven innings against the defending North Bay League champion Ukiah Wildcats on April 7. Not a single batter reached base. A perfect game.

Twenty one up, 21 down.

According to Cardinal Newman coach Bill Vreeland, Raasch threw 86 pitches, 69 of which were strikes. She struck out 13 of the 21 batters she faced.

Venturi, who has seen his share of dominant players, had never witnessed a performance like that.

“I have been coaching 17, 18 years. In our area, I’ve never seen it happen,” Venturi said. “We’ve been battling with Lexie for four years. It’s just been a heck of a battle.”

As such, what came next is all the more meaningful.

Raasch had been cheered by her teammates, congratulated by her coaches and enjoyed the moment — a first in her career. And then came Venturi, making the long walk from his dugout to the visitors’.

“I told her, ‘I hate being on the losing end but I’m proud of what you did,’ ” he said.

“She just dominated us and I wanted her to know that,” he said. “A perfect game or a no-hitter, those are rare feats. I just wanted her to know, for me, it was a feat.”

“When someone does something exceptional, you let ‘em know,” he said.

Raasch knows.

“I remember him saying that it was really cool to see and congratulations,” she said. “It means a lot to me. Usually coaches don’t do that.”

She kept using the word “classy” to describe Venturi.

So did Vreeland.

“He takes the time to come all the way over, big smile on his face and gave Lexie a big hug. It was genuine appreciation and happiness for a kid.”

“It was just a nice moment,” Vreeland said.

“Most guys won’t do that,” he said. “The fact that he did was total class.”

But it’s not like Venturi and the Wildcats didn’t go down fighting. As much as Venturi appreciated what Raasch was doing on the mound, he wanted to stop her. In a bad way.

“In the fifth, it started clicking in my mind” that Raasch was pitching a perfect game, he remembered.

“I told my girls, ‘Do anything to get the ball in play. Try to break this up,’ ” he said.

“We tried to bunt a couple of times when the fifth inning came around, but her ball was so quick,” he said. “We just hadn’t seen that level of pitching yet.”

Raasch’s dominance does not come out of the blue.

Cardinal Newman’s top shelf pitcher is 8-5 with a .75 earned run average. She’s notched four shutouts for the third place Cardinals who are 4-2 in league play heading into today’s game against Maria Carrillo.

And Raasch is doing it at the plate, too. She’s batting a team-leading .500 with a .586 slugging percentage.

Raasch is apparently putting it all together in her final season before heading to Southern Oregon University to play ball.

“Most pitchers are effective with speed or location but not very many of them can command all of that consistently and that day she had it,” Venturi said.

But she almost lost it.

Raasch had to face the top of the Wildcats’ order in the bottom of the seventh — no easy feat. And the Cardinal dugout was already starting to hum with unspoken anticipation.

“In passing conversation, I said ‘OK, top of the order, one, two, three hitters. Let’s just get the first hitter,’ ” Vreeland remembers saying. “One of my assistants, Holly, says ‘Do you realize what she’s … ’ and I said ‘Don’t say it!’ ”

It’s baseball/softball lore not to speak the unspeakable lest you break the spell.

“Softball is very superstitious,” Raasch said.

Even Raasch’s twin sister Shelbi almost fell afoul of the age-old rule.

She mentioned it as early as the third and then tried to bring it up again in the sixth. But by the seventh, she was silently counting pitches along with everyone else.

When her sister fell behind the third batter of the final inning 3-1, Shelbi Raasch was officially nervous.

“We were all kind of scared because we were like ‘Oh my gosh, if she throws one ball she could walk her and ruin it,’ ” she said.

She needn’t have worried.

Lexie Raasch battled back to a full count and delivered a curveball for a strike on the final pitch of the game.

Perfect.

“Everybody kind of erupted,” Vreeland said. “It wasn’t just a win.”

Venturi agreed. And that’s why he did what he did.

“I can accept losing when someone just dominates us. It’s just part of life,” he said. “You’ve just got to accept it and if they do something beyond the call of duty, you kind of got to let them know you appreciate it.”

Message delivered.

Perfection.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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