Rand carried a shutout into the final inning and struck out 10, six on off-speed offerings, during a 5-1 win over 11th-seeded Sci-Tech in the first round of the MIAA Western Massachusetts Division I baseball tournament.
"That curveball, pssshhh," Sci-Tech coach Misaiel Ramos said before exhaling. "That's the best pitcher we've faced this season. He had his game going."
From his third pitch of the day, which caught Cesar Molina looking and notched Rand's first strikeout, to his final pitch, another curve that caught Molina looking, Rand's curveball dropped where he wanted it and darted away from the CyberCats' bats.
Rand, who strained a muscle in his right side during a complete-game win over St. Joseph's last Saturday, struggled to control the pitch earlier in the season, but he said his ability to throw the pitch has improved as he's progressed with the sixth-seeded Braves (18-3).
With it, so have his results.
While Rand's ERA is around 1 for the season, he's been at his best the past two games, when he tossed a two-hitter against St. Joseph's to go with yesterday's four-hit effort. Rand also walked three, but he allowed just two baserunners before being staked to a 5-0 lead.
When the CyberCats (10-11) finally got the ball out of the infield for the first time in the top of the fourth, on Denzy Marcial's fly ball to deep right, he returned to the bench to a string of high-fives. Their first hit followed, when Juan Tavarez hammered a double to the base of the hill in Taconic's center field, but Rand got two of his nine groundball outs, five of them back to the mound, to end the inning.
"To be honest, I didn't think he had his velocity," Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said. "No doubt (it was the best he's thrown his curve ball). That's why we kept calling it."
Taconic was thankful for that, because Tavarez, Sci-Tech's starter, nearly matched Rand into the bottom of the fourth.
Taconic got one run in the first when Nic Klemansky walked and moved to third when Jay Cronze bounced back to the pitcher, but Tavarez tossed the ball into center field. Klemansky scored when Cronze stole second and catcher Hiram Lopez threw the ball into center field again.
Taconic increased its lead to 3-0 in the fourth when Cronze reached on an infield hit Taconic's first hit of the game and moved to third when John Lovellette grounded to third and Marcial's throw glanced off second baseman Jampriel Diaz's glove and into the outfield. After Lovellette stole second, Cody Gavin drove both home with a single to center.
The Braves scored their final two runs in the bottom of the fifth on Lovellette's lined two-run single to left field.
"You never feel safe," Stannard said. "But the way that Jake was pitching, I felt pretty good after Cody's single. After John's big hit, I felt that if Jake kept pitching like he was we had it in the bag."
Sci-Tech got its lone run in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI single by Christian Rivera, one of two hits for the CyberCats in the inning.