By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — Chase Petty’s Mainland Regional High teammates were nervous prior to their season-opening game at Holy Spirit, the No. 1 team in South Jersey according to several media polls. But their jitters had nothing to do with the Spartans’ stature, or the fact that they hadn’t played a varsity game in about 700 days. The apprehension was due to the dozens of Major League Baseball scouts huddled in the bleachers behind home plate, and the scores of fans up and down each baseline.
This wasn’t your typical high school baseball game.
But Petty has gotten used to the attention, especially after a completely dominating summer of 2020 on the elite nationwide invitational tournament circuit. It seems as though all the attention is like a lightning bolt of adrenaline rushing through his veins. He’s enjoying it, and why shouldn’t he? Petty is THE high school baseball star of South Jersey, and that’s not something that’s ever going to happen again in his life. Hell, there were more than 40 scouts at last week’s scrimmage game at St. Augustine Prep.
Petty was intent on giving the scouts and fans a show in the season opener, and he delivered — mowing down 13 Holy Spirit batters in a seven-inning complete game that featured just one hit by his opponent. The fastball of the potential first-round MLB draft pick in June reached triple digits on a handful of occasions, and his final pitch of the day clocked in at 98 miles per hour. His offense did what it had to do, as Petty got some big-time help from a couple of varsity veterans in Brody Levin and his catcher, Cole Campbell, and the Mustangs wrapped up a 5-2 victory to start their season.
Petty singled to left off Holy Spirit starter David Hagaman, a West Virginia University commit, in the top of the first and Levin followed with a booming home run to left to put Mainland up 2-0. Campbell was next and he hit a towering dinger to left to make it 3-0, and that was all Petty would need. He spent the next two-plus hours dotting the corners with fastballs in the upper 90s and a wicked slider. He didn’t even break out his change-up until the sixth inning.
“I just tried to have tunnel vision with my catcher, and that’s all,” said Petty, who is committed to the University of Florida. “The adrenaline was just rushing through my body the entire time. It was great. This was by far the best experience I’ve had the past couple of years. I was really feeling it today.”
“I’ve played with Chase since I was 12 years old, street hockey, baseball, and I never thought I’d be playing with him in front of all these scouts. It’s insane,” Levin said. “We’ve been boys our whole lives and now he’s doing his thing in front of so many MLB teams — it’s amazing. It’s eye-popping, every play. You can hear it sizzling. His fastball is crazy. He’s gifted, and he’s going to go far.”
Holy Spirit coach Steve Normane, a former Rutgers University star who played against Justin Verlander during his college days, was certainly impressed with Petty’s outing.
“He’s a special kid. He has all these people here watching him for a reason. It was impressive to see. It was the first time I got to see him throw live. It was fun to see, but I was proud of our guys, they didn’t back down from it. They went up there, swung the bat and fought until the end,” he said. “That kid over there is a special player. As you can see by all (the media) here and all the scouts here, he’s going places. It was fun to watch him pitch, and the best part about this is we probably get him again in about two-and-a-half weeks. I’m excited about that, we’ll get another crack at him, and that’s what we want.”
Levin faced a 2-and-2 count in his first at-bat before launching a fastball over the left-field fence, a special moment for an uncommitted senior infielder.
“It’s surreal. It’s been two years since we played a game and to come in with a crowd like this, it’s everything you ask for. I dreamt of this as a kid, my senior year, playing in front of a big crowd, and luckily I got hold of a ball, just like I had dreamed about. It’s just awesome,” he said. “David is a pitcher I’ve faced before and I was hunting fastball because I know he has really good off-speed. I got my chance and took it over the fence.”
Petty’s only problems came in the bottom of the first when Holy Spirit (1-1, 0-1 Cape-Atlantic League National) struck for a pair of runs. C.J. Egrie drew a leadoff walk, stole second, went to third on a groundout by Jayden Shertel and scored ahead of Trevor Cohen’s triple the opposite way down the left-field line. Shane Solari followed with an RBI groundout before Petty got out of the jam with the first of his 13 strikeouts. Cohen’s triple was the only hit Petty allowed, and the Spartans managed just two base runners after the first inning.
“I like our fight in the beginning. We go down three runs early and fight back for two against Chase, that was a positive I took out of this,” Normane said. “I just told them, we have a game tomorrow, we get to bounce back. I didn’t think we were going to undefeated this year. Did we want to lose Game 2? Absolutely not. But, you know what, I’d rather lose Game 2 than the last one. That’s what our focus is, we get to come out here tomorrow and try to get our second win of the year.”
Mainland (1-0, 1-0 CAL National) was able to tack on two more runs in the fourth as Campbell stroked a bases-loaded double to left-center to chase home Joe Sheeran and Petty and push the lead to 5-2. Shertel, a transfer from St. Joseph Academy, pitched a couple innings of scoreless relief for the Spartans.
“I thought David battled. He elevated a couple fastballs there in the beginning that the wind got under and took them out, but other than that he battled for us. I don’t think he had his 100 percent, A-plus stuff, but he sure as heck fought and got out of some situations. I was happy with David, he has a big season coming,” Normane said. “It was a pretty cool atmosphere. This is what we were expecting, a lot of people walking up and being in the outfield, wandering around, seeing all the scouts, seeing all the media. With the livestream and the food truck, it was a great atmosphere. I’ve never been a part of a game like this besides our state championship game (in 2015). It was pretty neat. We would have liked to come away on top, but it was a good thing to be a part of.”
The atmosphere was electric, especially for a high school game in April.
“When I was younger I played at Cooperstown’s Dream Park and we made it to the championship where we played in front of 2,000 people, so I was kind of used to it then, but kind of forgot about it. Today, honestly, I was shaking I was so nervous,” Levin said. “Getting off the bus I was zoned in and tried to delete everything behind the fence and just do my job. I’m just trying to do my best on the field and show (college) scouts what kind of player I am.”
Petty was able to somehow tune out all the noise and scouts holding up radar guns on his every pitch, and just do what he’s been doing his whole career at Mainland.
“I didn’t really look around, I kind of just saw my catcher and locked in. This was a big, anticipated game for all of us, and being out here to compete like this and having this energy — I’ve been waiting for this. This was my game to show who I really am on the mound, and I did that. And the atmosphere was just phenomenal. Not having (a season) last year, I’ve been waiting to be out here with these guys. I consider them to be brothers. We’ve all built great relationships together and it’s just great to be out here with these guys,” he said. “Baseball has always been my life, my home away from home, and when I’m on the field, everything else disappears. Being out here, nothing else is ever really on my mind. I just focus on right now, and whatever happens in the future happens. As long as I’m throwing strikes and getting outs, that’s really the biggest thing for me. Just getting outs and doing everything I can to help my team win.”
Petty said he’ll worry about the Major League Baseball draft when it comes in June. For right now, he’s just trying to have as much fun with his teammates in their stylish new charcoal gray uniforms.
“Every kid in a position like me, they see that and they see (Major League Baseball) as a possible future, but right now I’m just focusing on now,” he said. “I still have this whole season to perform and compete, and that’s my main focus right now. I talk to the Florida coaches all the time and I’m going there, 100 percent, as of right now. As time goes on, we’ll see what happens.”
What’s next: Holy Spirit hosts Oakcrest on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Mainland hosts Cedar Creek on Thursday at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays