The last time Kane County's Craig Italiano left the mound at Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium, he was being helped off the field by trainers after taking a line drive to the head.
But when Italiano returned to that mound Wednesday for the Cougars, he created some much better memories.
Italiano and reliever Branden Dewing combined on a seven-inning no-hitter in a 3-0 shutout of the visiting Burlington Bees. Kane County remained unbeaten with a 7-0 record, the best in franchise history.
Italiano retired the first 16 batters he faced -- striking out a career-high nine, including six in a row -- before hitting Antonio Jimenez with one out in the sixth inning. He set down Ryan Eigsti on strikes and was relieved by Branden Dewing, who closed out the final 1 1/3 innings perfectly for his first save.
It was the Cougars' sixth no-hitter and their first Jared Lansford accomplished the feat on the road in a seven-inning game against Beloit on May 14, 2006.
Italiano never doubted he'd be able to get back up on the proverbial horse and return to form.
"I just worked hard toward it and planned like it was going to come," he said. "The hardest part was not being able to do anything for three months while the fracture healed, everything else was pretty easy."
The 21-year-old was in the midst of his best performance of 2007 exactly a year to the date of Lansford's feat when a line shot off the bat of Wisconsin's Carlos Triunfel hit him in the head, ending his night and his season. He said he hasn't felt any ill effects from the injury on the mound.
"Every now and then I'll have stuff off the field," Italiano said. "Flashbacks and stuff, but I just shake it off."
He was so dominant that he struck out six straight Bees between the third and fifth innings.
"I didn't even realize I struck out six in a row," the right-hander said. "I was just able to mix it in and out, and I was spotting my fastball really well. I had some good breaking balls and changeups, but I threw mostly fastballs."
Italiano was taken out of the game due to pitch count. Dewing then took the reins and closed out the no-no.
"My heart was beating a little faster than normal," the reliever laughed. "There was a situation where he had to come out and someone had to go in. I was glad it was me."
"Craig's one of the most pleasurable guys to be around, I love him to death," he added. "He deserves this more than anybody after all the hardships he's been through in the last year. It was a pleasure to be a part of it with him. This game is going to live with me probably forever -- it's definitely one of the best moments of my career so far."
Kane County won the doubleheader in the bottom of the 10th when Jacob Smith walked with the bases loaded to sweep the doubleheader. The Cougars have strung together 19 1/3 consecutive innings of scoreless baseball.
Christian Vitters provided all the offense the Kane County needed with a double and three RBIs.
The wins and sharp performances have the team excited early on in the season.
"I just want to stay consistent," Italiano said. "This might be a hard thing to top, but hopefully I can keep going out and keep throwing strikes."
"Team-wise we're playing great baseball right now," Dewing added. "Hopefully this keeps going. It's getting ahead and getting every pitch over for strikes. Craig was throwing every pitch over for a strike whenever he wanted. That's what the pitching staff has been doing."
Tom Cardinale is a contributor to MLB.com.