College Baseball: Former East hurler Litaker ends career
BREVARD — Brevard senior Alex Litaker pitched a perfect game on Saturday.
It wasn’t a 27-up, 27-down perfect game like the one Don Larsen pitched in the World Series or the one Billy Chapel pitched in Hollywood, but it was perfect in the sense of closure.
When Litaker faced seven batters, got four outs and allowed three hits in a loss to Newberry, the stat-line didn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that he’d gritted his teeth and taken the mound on the last day of his baseball life. The former East Rowan and Rowan County Legion hurler will always have the satisfaction of knowing he had a college career, even when so many injuries piled up that someone with less resolve never would have had one.
“Everything that was in my control, I always did my best at,” Litaker said. “I tried to extend a dream as far as I could. I wanted to leave baseball on my own terms, and I’m thankful I was able to do that.”
Litaker isn’t famous. Not like some of the guys he grew up with and played with. East had a deep talent pool just a few years ago — 3A state runner-up in 2008, 23-5 in 2009 and state champ in 2010.
Litaker might have been as good as any of his teammates, except he got hurt young. A torn labrum kept him from pitching for the Mustangs as a sophomore or junior. In Litaker’s senior year, East had Cody Laws, Corbin Shive, Kent Basinger,Thomas Allen, Preston Troutman, Parker Gobbel and Will Johnson as pitching options, so even in a 28-game season, he only got 14 innings. He went 2-1 with a 1.54 ERA.
“Brevard saw me pitching in a fall game at Western Carolina that year,” Litaker said. “I was throwing 85, 86, and they offered me a spot on the team.”
No baseball scholarship was offered, but Litaker is a great student and had academic scholarships. That made Brevard a decent option.
Things didn’t always go smoothly.
“My first appearance, I threw 16 straight balls — freshman jitters,” Litaker said. “I got into one actual game my freshman year. I faced one batter, and he 10-run-ruled us.”
Litaker’s sophomore year brought new coaches. He pitched eight innings that season, allowing 22 hits and 16 earned runs.
“I was throwing over the top and getting hit hard,” Litaker said. “The coaches told me I had to do something.”
He made a successful transition to a submarine throwing motion prior to his junior year. His ball moved more, and his pitches didn’t get squared up as frequently. Brevard had a winning 2012 season, finishing third in the SAC, and Litaker played a key role in the bullpen. He led the Tornados with 17 appearances and won two games.
While Brevard struggled this season (16-32), Litaker posted his best numbers. His ERA was 3.98 in 14 relief outings.
His most severe challenge came on March 9 when he was called on for an extra-long relief stint against Catawba at Newman Park. He faced 15 batters and got 11 outs, but he suffered another torn labrum.
That should’ve ended his career. It didn’t. He got a plasma shot and a cortisone shot and was only out of action a couple of weeks.
Last week, he relieved against Winston-Salem State — and he earned his only win of the season.
“I knew I could pitch with some pain,” Litaker said. “Why not? I’m a senior. I wanted to keep fighting. I wanted my career to end on the mound, not with an injury.”
It’s sort of the story of Litaker’s life that the best pitches he ever threw were fired 1,400 miles from home in Fargo, N.D. That’s where the 2009 Rowan Legion team beat Las Vegas in the World Series. Litaker was the reliever who came in and escaped a desperate, bases-loaded, no-outs jam against the defending national champs.
“People bring that game up to my family now more than to me,” Litaker said with a laugh. “But it was a special time. I’ve got a life-long bond with the guys on that team.”
From the time he was playing on the little diamond in Granite Quarry and staring up at the bright lights of Staton Field where East plays, Litaker’s dreams were about baseball. His college career ended quietly Saturday with a 3-2 lifetime record, but he’ll get his diploma next month, and he has zero regrets.
“It all happens for a reason,” Litaker said. “If I don’t tear my labrum in high school maybe I go to a much bigger school, but it’s all worked out. Brevard has been great for me and I wouldn’t trade the experience here for anything. And baseball has given me a ride.”
Litaker’s heroes aren’t MLB pitchers. Instead they are doctors Bob King and Robert Humble. He wants to go on to physical therapy school after he graduates.
“Because of those two men, I was able to be a college pitcher,” Litaker said. “I want to help some kids the way that they helped me.”