Fans filled both base lines, both teams cheered loud and noise from nearby soccer and softball fields filtered in. All Jersey Shore pitcher Dylan Hamm heard was his cleats crunching the dirt as he walked and threw.
The outside world shut down. It was just Hamm and the catcher's mitt. This was his day, his moment and he seized it.
Hamm pitched the game of his life Thursday at South Williamsport, throwing a complete-game three-hitter and striking out a career-high 15 while leading Jersey Shore to a 9-1 win. The senior right-hander retired South's final 13 batters, struck out the last six and made an early four-run advantage seem insurmountable as he grew stronger as the game progressed.
Colton Potter of Jersey Shore is safe at second base as South Williamsport shortstop Carter Alexander fields the throw on a double in the third inning Thursday at South Williamsport. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"I definitely felt like I was in a zone out there," Hamm said. "I always try and play the same and trust my defense. I pitch where the coach wants it and hope it falls the right way and it did today. It was amazing."
Jersey Shore (7-1) backed Hamm with an explosive offense that produced 12 hits from eight players. Colton Potter went 4 for 5 with three runs scored while Christian Rishel and Cody Bradley both hit long two-run home runs.
But on a day when the offense hit so well, Hamm managed to steal the show.
"Everything was working really well for him," interim Jersey Shore coach Steve Waldman said. "He found the zone. He knew where he had to put it and he looked good, he looked comfortable. We let him go longer than we usually let our pitchers go but he was in control and we weren't going to take him out."
Hamm said afterward he is not a strikeout pitcher, but good luck convincing South (3-2) of that. The hard-working senior struck out the side three times and struck out at least two in five different innings. He also recorded at least one strikeout in every inning and struck out eight Mountie starters at least once each.
The remarkable aspect is that despite striking out 15, Hamm threw only 93 pitches. He went to only three three-ball counts and just one over the last five innings. He threw 62 of his 93 pitches for strikes and needed 27 pitches to strike out the game's last six hitters. Utilizing a changeup that seemed to have South hitters baffled along with a curveball that bended more as the game continued, Hamm seemed to be able to throw nearly every pitch exactly where he wanted it.
Anthony Caruso (2 for 3) jumped on Hamm's only mistake, hitting a high fastball for a first-inning home run that cut the deficit to 2-1. He learned quickly, though, kept the ball low from there and became untouchable over the last four innings.
As the strikeouts piled up, Jersey Shore players started betting Hamm in the later innings that he could not reach 15 strikeouts. Free McDonald's on road trips was the bounty so Hamm probably ate like a king last night.
"They were setting goals for me and joking with me about it and it was fun," Hamm said. "I felt like I could place the changeup wherever I wanted it. Before the game starts you always have some butterflies and it definitely helps when your team scores right off the bat. It gives you some security."
Hamm has waited for his time to shine the last few years as pitchers like Tellef Notevarp, Chris Glunk and Travis Eiswerth have had huge years. Now 2-0, Hamm is doing his best to earn a turn in the spotlight.
"It's nice to see him pitch as well as he is because he wasn't one of the top pitchers as a sophomore or junior but he's really started flourishing," Waldman said. "Everything takes time. He was patient with it and stuck with it and did the drills and the routines we have him go through and he's come into his own and proved himself."
The offense proved itself immediately yesterday. Potter hit a two-out first-inning single before Rishel crushed a long home run over the left-field fence and put Jersey Shore ahead to stay. Potter was in the middle of another rally two innings later, hitting a double and scoring on a Bronson Bass sacrifice fly. Huling followed with a two-out single before Bradley tattooed another two-out, two-run home run even farther over the left-field fence than Rishel.
Over the first three innings, Jersey Shore delivered six two-out hits and scored four two-out runs. The Bulldogs scored in five of the seven innings and Potter and Zach Miller had an RBI double and single, respectively, in the fourth and seventh inning.
"We have a lot of depth. Anybody can hit anywhere in the lineup," Hamm said. "Most of us have been playing together since we were real young. We have great team chemistry."
"Today we came down focused and we did the job and got it done," Waldman said. "It's a lot of fun to watch when they play like they can."
Shore203 101 2-9 12 0
South100 000 0-1 3 1
Dylan Hamm and Eric Huling. Anthony Caruso, Bryce Merrill (4), Riley Thomas (7) and Derek Wisner. W-Hamm, (2-0). L-Caruso, (0-1).
Top Jersey Shore hitters: Colton Potter 4-5, 2 2Bs, RBI, 3 R; Christian Rishel 1-4, 2-run HR; Huling 2-3, RBI, R; Cody Bradley 1-3, 2-run HR; Zach Miller 1-2, RBI. Top South hitters: Caruso 2-3, HR; Thomas 1-3.
Records: Jersey Shore 7-1. South 3-2.