By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
TRENTON — One number is impressive at any level of baseball because it shows stamina and durability. That number is 103 — as in, the number of pitches Mainland Regional High senior right-hander Chase Petty threw during a showcase matchup against Don Bosco Prep at Arm & Hammer Park, home of the minor-league Trenton Thunder, on Sunday night. The second number, 98, shows pure dominance.
As in, miles-per-hour on that 103rd pitch of the night. Which happened to be a frozen rope called strike three on the outside at the knees to Nick Carr, the 13th strikeout victim of the night to end the top of the seventh.
Still — in this showcase featuring two of the top 15 teams in the state that for all intents and purposes was the Chase Petty showcase — Mainland found itself trailing 2-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh. It’s a good thing Petty just happens to be one of the Mustangs’ best offensive players, too. He singled with one out and scored the tying run ahead of Cole Campbell’s booming double to deep left field that also plated Brody Levin, who slide into home head first with the winning run as the Stangs beat the Ironmen, 3-2, in dramatic walk-off fashion.
It was the perfect ending to perhaps the best night of Petty’s high school career, and that’s saying something considering the potential first-round Major League Baseball draft pick spent all of last summer dominating the national Perfect Game invitational circuit.
“I didn’t want to throw a slider right there, I wanted to go to my fastball and right out of my hand I knew it was a strike. That’s who I am,” Petty said of his 13th and final strikeout of the night. “I could not be happier. This is my last high school regular-season start and it ended in the best way possible. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys, I couldn’t have done anything without them. Cole coming through with that big hit — that was amazing. I’m speechless. I was the first guy to Cole. He’s like a brother to me. We bicker at each other, but that’s how pitchers and catchers are. He’s my brother, I love him to death; he pulled through and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Petty’s teammates seemed to search long and hard for adjectives befitting a performance like the one they had just witnessed. Yes, he gave up two runs but on the high school level it’s hard to ask a pitcher to be more dominant. He fastball was routinely hitting the high 90s and there simply wasn’t anything any of the Ironmen hitters could do against maybe the best high school wipeout slider in the nation.
“Right from the jump, right from the bullpen it felt so good so I knew it was going to be my best pitch tonight,” Petty threw of that slider. “I threw it at any point in the count. I just felt so comfortable throwing it. It was the best it’s been all year.”
“The dude is flat-out electric,” said Campbell, Mainland’s starting catcher. “He throws the ball 95-plus with ease. He’s a different breed. All game he kept us in it and eventually we teamed up for him. In the first inning he was fine, after that he settled in, calmed down and just pumped (strikes). This is one of the best baseball teams around and he just kept us in it all game. He had 13 Ks against a team with a bunch of D-1 commits; he just won the game.”
“This kid is nothing like you’ve ever seen before and in a couple years we’re going to see him in the big leagues, and hopefully we’ll all get the chance to see him pitch in person. That will be something really special to watch and think about,” said senior outfielder Clayton Sands. “From right field it looked like laser beams. It’s absolutely something special. It’s something amazing to watch and it’s awesome to have a guy like that on the mound who is gunning it out there, coming back to the bench and getting us fired up. He’s somebody special.”
Bosco took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first as Petty got off to a little bit of a shaky start. Leadoff man Eric Becker walked to start the game and scampered to second after an errant pickoff throw by Petty. Then Charlie Granatell laced a run-scoring single to center and quickly the Mustangs were down 1-0. But Petty settled down quickly, striking out the side in a harbinger of things to come.
The only other offense Don Bosco could muster came in the sixth, as Granatell hit a leadoff triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Allen Hernandez to give the Ironmen a 2-1 lead. Mainland had tied the game, 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth when Sam Wood walked and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Petty.
Clayton Poley pitched well for the Ironmen before giving way to Noah Rodriguez with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, and Rodriguez got a strikeout to end a Mainland threat. He then retired leadoff hitter Mark Elliott to start the seventh before a single by Petty, a walk to Levin and Campbell’s two-run, walkoff double to the wall in left.
“I was seeing fastballs well, it’s just the curveballs were a little weird and my timing was messed up,” said Campbell, who was hitless prior to that at-bat. “It was a new pitcher and the first pitch out of his hand, I was on. The second one came in my favorite spot — low-and-in — and I just didn’t miss it. Just caught a barrel and won us a game.”
“Sometimes we come out a little slowly, but the guys on the bench, the coaching staff, that’s our mentality — we’re going to take it to you every inning and no matter what happens, if we’re down, if we’re not stopping until somebody sings at the end, and hopefully it’s us,” Sands added.
“Sammy Wood, Clayton Sands, Joe Sheeran, there were guys putting hits together, and we put good at-bats together throughout the game. I know everybody came to see No. 4, but I think they got to see that our nine is pretty good. Our starting nine can really play,” said Mainland coach Billy Kern. “The biggest thing we stressed from the start of the season was we didn’t put the game on the schedule for Chase, we put it on the schedule for all 21 (of our guys). We were going to compete and give it everything we had. To score or not score there in the seventh inning — if we got on the bus with a 2-1 loss, this was going to be a positive experience for us. (We) know what we’re all about now; now the next step for good teams is to make sure we turn the page and continue to compete as we get ready for playoffs.”
After a long, trying year of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and having the 2020 high school baseball season completely wiped out because of it, a showcase like Sunday night’s featuring two of the state’s best team and a legitimate first-round MLB Amateur Draft prospect was exactly what fans have been craving. And they showed out in force, making for a tremendous atmosphere that wasn’t lost on the coaches and players.
“You say you don’t notice it but when it comes down to it, you’re representing your town and you’re representing every town around you. You’re just trying to do your thing, come out here and win a baseball game,” Campbell said. Added Petty, “this is by far the best setting I’ve been in. It was unbelievable. Our student section was going crazy, the energy was amazing.”
“This is what we signed up for to come and play this game,” Kern said. “The atmosphere was great, the Thunder were nothing but accommodating, and our kids competed. I let them know in the seventh that we came to compete — we didn’t come just to be on the field with Bosco, we wanted to show up and play, and we did. Chase was fantastic and offensively I thought we out-hit them all game, we just couldn’t break through, then Cole Campbell was enormous there in the seventh inning.”
The night was one Sands said he won’t soon forget.
“This is emotional for me. These (next two weeks) will be my last games with these guys,” he said. “We had an hour-and-a-half bus ride up here. This is special. It was an outstanding effort by Chase, Cole behind the plate. We just battled all night. We were lucky enough to find a few runs in the last inning, just stacking runners — that’s just what we do, we’re fighting until the end.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays