By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

The South Jersey South Shore Baseball League playoffs have featured some pretty talented baseball players that have been doing some special things on the diamond the past two weeks. But now, even a week later, it’s still hard to fathom what Hammonton Hot Shots pitcher John Kasper did last week in his team’s 9-0 victory over the Absecon Outlaws that put Hammonton into this week’s semifinals.

Kasper, 24 years old and a former player at Gloucester Catholic who pitches now at Rutgers-Camden, twirled a complete game, two-hit shutout. Nothing special about that, right?

Wrong.

He only needed 52 pitches to finish all seven innings, and of those 52 pitches and almost unbelievable 48 were strikes. He averaged less than eight pitches per inning — for the entire game.

“I was always was known for throwing in the zone and throwing strikes, but I mean, to that caliber, I’ve never come close to something like that,” he said earlier this week. “I didn’t even know it until after the game either. I was really locked in and just focused and just trying to get the win because anytime you take a pitch off or anytime you take a couple outs off, you never know what could happen.

“I felt like I was locating a lot better in the bullpen than usual,” he explained. “I kind of just let it loose, just trying to get my arm ready for a lot of pitches. I did feel like I was on that day. I was hitting my spots and I felt like, ‘you know what, maybe today’s going to be a different outcome than usual.’”

Incredibly, Hammonton Hot Shots pitcher John Kasper needed just 52 pitches in a complete game victory over Absecon in the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League playoffs last week. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“Even, now, it’s a week later and I’m still not quite sure I believe what I saw,” said Hammonton coach Sam Rodio. “He was throwing well to say the least. He always throws a lot of strikes. That’s his M.O. He doesn’t walk guys. It’s a cliché and I’ve said it 1000 times, but throwing strikes and changing speeds gets it done. And the defense also played very well. I remember a couple plays off the top of my head. Our shortstop made a great play, the right fielder went down the line and made another great play. So the defense helped a lot, and our catcher that night, Austin Sofran, was awesome. He and Kasper did a really nice job, they were on the same page all night. It was special watch.”

Rodio said that when he gathered his team together after the win and told them what Kasper had just done, they all thought he was trying to play a prank on them.

“I didn’t even really believe it. I was looking at the Game Changer box score on my phone and he was 19 (pitches) and 18 (strikes) after three innings. I thought, something happened, maybe the internet’s down. I don’t know. Then, after the 4th, he was 30 (pitches) and 29 (strikes) and after the 6th he was 42 and 40. I said, ‘wait, is this right? We have everything, right?’ We went through and doubled checked everything after the sixth inning. Obviously, we knew he was doing really well, but nobody really knew what the actual pitch counts were. And the ball count and. He didn’t even actually realize it himself,” Rodio said. “He was in a groove and it was a quick game. I said, ‘guys, I don’t know if you realize what happened tonight. This guy just threw 52 pitches,’ and they all stared and then I said, ‘and he only threw four balls.’”

Kasper, a Glassboro resident, said it wasn’t easy to navigate the Outlaws lineup, which features some pretty good hitters on a team that was in the league semifinals a year ago.

“Most of them were taking first-pitch strikes a lot of the time. The other percentage they would foul off the first fastball or change-up. I know that one guy, (Ray) Keelan, he won the batting title last year, and I remember last year he went 3-for-4 off me. He’s good, and they have some other good hitters. So, to be able to keep them on their toes and not really let them know what’s coming, II felt good,” he said. “In the 6th inning, we were up big and I was like, ‘they are probably defeated.’  But I had to keep throwing strikes. I had to make them make a decision. By the time they even blink their eyes it’s already 0-and-2. I just tried to keep pumping in fastballs, keep giving them strikes, and they had prove to me that they can do something with it.”

Kasper figured he was up around 75 pitches by the time the game was over. He did a double-take when his coach said the final number was 52.

“I went back and watched the Game Changer (video). And I had 19 pitches going out into the 4th inning. I mean, holy smokes, man,” Kasper said. “After the game Sam was like, oh, guess how many pitches you threw? I said, ‘maybe 70, 75.’ He’s like, ‘52.’ He said, ‘how many balls do you think you threw?’ And I was like, I don’t know, maybe 10?’ He said, ‘four’ and I was like, ‘holy cow.’”

Years from now, that performance might be something Rodio’s family gets sick of hearing about.

“Now, we’ve had a lot of great pitchers over the years and there’s been a lot of great games, but I’ve never heard of it anywhere — Little League, pro ball or anything in between,” Rodio said. “I’ve never heard of that at any level anywhere. I still can’t believe it happened.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays