By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Normally, there isn’t much for a pitcher like Cherokee’s Jackson Edelman to look at behind the plate during a high school baseball game. A wind screen with a team’s logo on it, maybe an overzealous dad chiding an umpire on every pitch. Once in a while you’ll see a few kids from a rival team hanging on the backstop fence if they are there to scout. Nothing to cause a guy like Edelman, a senior, even the slightest bit of concern, much less nervousness.
But when you’re squaring off against Mainland senior right-hander and Major League Baseball potential first-round draft pick Chase Petty, well, it’s a little different scene behind home plate. The Mustangs have a whole section roped off for professional scouts with their iPads and radar guns, trying to determine for their respective MLB employer if young Mr. Petty has the right stuff to warrant a first-round draft pick.
It’s easy to be forgotten all about when you’re the other guy going up against a kid who can throw a baseball 100 miles-per-hour, but on Monday afternoon in the 47th Annual Joe Hartman Diamond Classic, Edelman made sure the Mustangs remembered his name with an absolute gem of a performance. He went 6 1/3 innings, allowed just three hits and one run while striking out eight as the visiting Chiefs rallied in the seventh for a 4-1 victory that put them into the Classic semifinals against the winner of Tuesday’s matchup between St. Augustine Prep and Williamstown.
Cherokee, the No. 17 team in the state according to nj.com’s weekly Top 20 poll, improved to 12-3 while the No. 6 Mustangs fell to 13-2.
Petty didn’t factor in the decision as he left after throwing 51 pitches and trailing 1-0, but he scored the game-tying run in the bottom of the sixth after doubling, stealing third and racing home to beat the tag of Cherokee catcher Jason Schooley on a throw from first baseman Blake Morgan after Mainland’s Cole Campbell had grounded out to short. Junior Noah Myers was saddled with the loss as Cherokee untied the game in the top of the seventh with a three-run rally.
“I try not to notice those things (like pro scouts). It’s just me and Jay Schooley back there and I’m just throwing to him. He’s a great catcher, a great kid, I love throwing to him. It’s always nice getting to work with him,” Edelman said. “It’s a good opportunity anytime you go out there to pitch, I love pitching. My mindset was just to go out there, throw strikes, trust myself, trust my coaches, trust my teammates, and that’s all I did and we wound up being victorious. Obviously, (Chase) is a great pitcher who’s probably going to get drafted, but we were just focused on what we were doing as a team and we had faith that if we went out and did what we were supposed to do, we’d win.”
“Jackson has been a stud for us since the first day of tryouts. He wants the ball in every big game, I’ve prioritized him in division games. A division game was moved today and it was his turn, so he got the chance against Mainland again and avenged what happened three weeks ago when they got us in the (Coaches vs. Cancer Classic),” said Cherokee coach Marc Petragnani. “Every at-bat the most important pitch is ‘strike one.’ And Jackson does a tremendous job of doing that. In the Cherry Hill East game last week he was 24-of-28 (on first-pitch strikes) and I didn’t do the numbers for this game yet but I’m figuring it was pretty high. The only time he really gets in trouble was that 2-and-0 fastball to Petty that was ripped to left field. That was a 2-0 pitch that he had to come in with because he didn’t want to walk the leadoff batter.”
The Chiefs managed just two hits against Petty but both of them helped get Cherokee on the board first. Senior Tyler Lender led the inning off with a slicing triple down the right-field line and fellow senior Blake Morgan followed him up by bouncing an RBI single up the middle for a 1-0 lead. That was all the Chiefs could manage against Petty and an inning of reliever Will Hoover before finally breaking through in the seventh against Meyers, who pitched well, allowing just three hits in two innings, but fell victim to some timely hitting by the Chiefs.
Leadoff man Dom Patrizi laced an RBI single to left to put Cherokee up 2-1 in the top of the seventh and after a walk to Brandon Petrick loaded the bases, Jeremy Cheeseman came through with a two-run single that put the Chiefs up, 4-1. Shane Sax, a junior left-hander, came on in relief of Edelman in the seventh after two runners reached and induced a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.
“I tell the kids all the time, typically in high school baseball games are won and lost on mistakes, not really on slugging. Very rarely do you go to a high school game and someone just goes double-single-double and that’s the reason they won,” said Mainland coach Billy Kern. “Today was just a matter of us not coming up with a hit and we lost focus there for a little bit in the seventh inning, allowed them to turn the lineup over, and that hurt us there at the end. But Will and Noah kept us right there, so they’ve earned themselves some more innings.”
Coach Petragnani said his squad did a lot of prep work to face Petty, dialing up the pitching machine to 100 mph during practice the last couple of days.
“We knew Petty was coming so Friday and Saturday we set the machine at 100. Friday was ugly, Saturday they made the adjustments and they put the ball in play. And that’s all we’re asking them to do in that situation. Put the ball in play against one of the — if not THE best pitcher in New Jersey, and see what happens,” he said. “Lender got one that just kept drifting away from the right fielder, they drew the infield up and Blake was able to shoot one through the middle for the run. I couldn’t be more proud of our group of guys and I can’t wait to see what transpires the next couple of weeks.”
Kern said he wanted to limit Petty because the senior has a huge showcase game on Sunday when Mainland faces off against Don Bosco Prep at the minor-league field of the Trenton Thunder. There’s also the upcoming state playoffs to think about.
“The plan as 50 (pitches) and I think he ended up with 51, so we were kind of right at it. That last batter (in the top of the fourth) who hit that ground ball to first (to end the inning) would have been his last batter. We had two guys warming up ready to go that (fifth) inning, it was just our plan. It had nothing to do with the Diamond or (Cherokee). Our kids were aware of it and we kind of knew what we were doing going in. I thought our kids competed, all our pitchers competed. We had a shot to win, we left some guys on early, which kind of put us in a hole,” Kern said. “Looking forward over the next couple of weeks it was just going to be — not only with the five-day rest instead of the normal six, like he’s been getting — we’re playing tomorrow, Wednesday, Friday and up into Saturday, and he’s in the lineup every day so this gave us an opportunity to kind of keep and eye on the load management. After Sunday, he’ll have eight or nine days off and then we’re full steam ahead for the playoffs.”
Kern said he liked what he saw out of guys like Hoover and Meyers, a couple of young pitchers who are trying to work their way into more prominent roles. And with senior Brody Levin on the shelf for a bit as far as pitching, Kern and his staff are trying to find out who they’ll be able to rely on in the postseason.
“We feel good with where we’re at. Seeding-wise (in South Jersey Group 3) we’ll just have to see how it all shakes out. It’s very difficult to follow this year because you’re basically just waiting to see who everyone else beats,” Kern said. “But I feel good about where we’re at offensively and what we’ll be doing over the next week or two is figuring out our depth in our (pitching) rotation for the playoffs. Brody (Levin) has been a little dinged since the Ocean City game so we’ll keep an eye on him. Will Hoover and Noah have earned some innings for us, so you’ll see a lot of different names on the mound over the next week or so as we get ready (for states).”
What’s next: Mainland hosts Middle Township on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Cherokee travels to Shawnee on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays