JS playoff ace has waited for his big chance

Those in Jersey Shore and around District 4 know Michael Schoonmaker as a fantastic pitcher. They know he is a teenager who has shined on the district’s biggest stage.

Look closer, though. What Schoonmaker really has become is the great American success story.

Buried below a bevy of talented pitchers the previous three years, Schoonmaker threw all of two varsity innings entering his senior season. But he never gave up, never pouted. He kept working, kept waiting for his opportunity.

And then he pounced when it came.

Out of nowhere, Schoonmaker became Jersey Shore’s most valuable player during its District 4 Class AAA championship run. He made runs at a perfect game and no-hitter, respectively and helped Jersey Shore capture its fourth straight district title.

“At the beginning I didn’t get that many starts but I really didn’t think I would be at this point,” Schoonmaker said after throwing a one-hitter in a 4-0 championship win over Midd-West. “It’s just a dream.”

It’s a dream born from hard work and a never say die mentality. While Schoonmaker toiled, talented pitchers like Tellef Notevarp, Travis Eiswerth and Chris Glunk dominated the past two seasons. During the 2014 regular season Travis Bradley went 6-0, Dylan Hamm 5-0 and Eiswerth 4-2 as Jersey Shore (20-2), which faces Abington Heights at Bowman Field in Monday’s PIAA opener, romped to a third straight HAC-I championship.

Schoonmaker pitched well when called upon, but that was not often. He started only two games, winning both and throwing one complete game. The lanky right-hander’s 20 innings, though, were at least 14 fewer than Eiswerth, Hamm or Bradley.

Late in the season, however, Schoonmaker made a statement in what started as a slugfest at Montoursville. Jersey Shore led 11-9 in the fourth inning when Schoonmaker was brought in. All he did was throw four scoreless innings, allow just two hits and strike out six as the Bulldogs pulled away, 20-9.

It caught the coaching staff’s attention and was just the opening Schoonmaker needed.

“You find somebody who’s hot and run with them,” Jersey Shore coach Steve Waldman said. “It’s just like guys in the order, if they’re hot you keep letting them hit.”

So Jersey Shore ran with Schoonmaker against streaking Milton in the district semifinals. He threw 4 2/3 perfect innings, struck out six and allowed no earned runs in 5 1/3 innings as Jersey Shore won his playoff debut, 3-1.

That was just a tuneup. Under the bright Bowman Field lights in his biggest game yet against Midd-West, Schoonmaker owned the night. This time, he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning against a hard-hitting team, allowed just two baserunners and finished with a 1-hit shutout. Schoonmaker surrendered only a seventh-inning infield single and retired 16 straight at one point.

As one dejected Midd-West batter walked back to the dugout you could almost see them saying, “Who is this guy and where did he come from?”

“Schoony has just been outstanding. He hadn’t been our go-to guy even though he pitched some, but he’s earned that spot,” said catcher Eric Huling, who had two hits in the title game. “I know there’s other pitchers that want to get out there but they just have to know that if he’s pitching like that you just have to be there with him.”

Adding in his playoff numbers, Schoonmaker is now 4-0 with a save and a 0.43 ERA. The man who came out of nowhere has allowed just 16 hits in 32 1/3 innings and just two earned runs while striking out 29.

Schoonmaker does not overpower opponents but pitching is not about who can throw the hardest. Greg Maddux long ago proved that.

Schoonmaker really is a pitcher’s pitcher. He skillfully hits his spots, moves the ball well and has excellent movement on his pitches. Both Milton and Midd-West looked baffled against him.

“We’re behind the starter whoever pitches but to do what Mike did (Wednesday) is pretty unbelievable,” Huling said.

So too really is Schoonmaker’s breakthrough emergence. Against the odds he has joined he ranks of elite Jersey Shore pitchers past and present. As the years go by, Jersey Shore coaches can point to Schoonmaker and tell all their players to keep fighting. One never knows when the chance to shine is coming so be ready.

Schoonmaker earned his and struck gold.

“It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable,” Schoonmaker said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”