Baseball – 2022 Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year: Zach Crotchfelt, Jackson Memorial
Since the time he set foot at Jackson Memorial as a freshman in the fall of 2018, Zach Crotchfelt has been on the radar as a potential future pro and almost surefire, high-level Division I player.
With Major League Baseball scouts watching closely and front offices considering the merits of selecting the 6-foot-4 left-hander, it would have been understandable for Crotchfelt to think first about his arm by refraining from pushing the limits of New Jersey’s pitch-count restrictions.
Crotchfelt, though, did not prioritize maximizing his draft stock in his senior season. He prioritized winning a championship.
As it turns out, Crotchfelt may have done both thanks to his willingness to take the ball and shove for as many pitches as it took down the stretch of the season. As the state leader with 131 strikeouts, the leader of the Class A South and Ocean County Tournament champions, and one of the 200 or so top prospects heading into the July 17 MLB Draft, Crotchfelt is the 2022 Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year.
“To go out and end on a win feels really special,” said Crotchfelt, whose team closed out 2022 with a win over Central Regional in the Ocean County Tournament final. “It feels like I finally filled that little hole in my heart.
“It’s nice to send the younger guys off with a feeling of winning that they can come back to next year. In all four of my years here, I never really had that feeling of winning. Maybe in the Last Dance (World Series in the summer of 2020), but even there, we lost our last game and the whole thing came after our season got canceled from COVID. In regular seasons, I’ve never really had that opportunity to go out with a win and it just felt like something was missing. That’s what this year was about for me and this team more than anything else.”
Zach Crotchfelt Career Stats
Jackson Memorial’s southpaw flamethrower did pace himself early in the season. He threw only 64 pitches in his first start of the season against Bishop Eustace, then needed only 76 to pitch a six-inning no-hitter at Toms River East.
Crotchfelt then made his first start on four-days rest and fired a three-hit shutout with a career-high 16 strikeouts against Toms River North before 10 days without pitching.
Starting with a highly-anticipated game at Central Regional against Cam Leiter, Crotchfelt took the ball as a starter eight times in just 41 days and threw no fewer than 106 pitches in any of them. He took the ball on the minimum four-days rest period three times during that stretch and twice more with five days of rest between starts.
Including the three-hitter vs. Toms River North, Crotchfelt’s results in his first three games on four-days rest were overwhelming. He recorded every one but one in those three starts while striking out 44, walking five and allowing one run in 20 2/3 innings. The other two starts were wins over Williamstown – the team that eliminated Jackson Memorial from the 2021 NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV Tournament – and Brick Memorial.
The fourth attempt at a quick turnaround was Crotchfelt’s lone hiccup after opening day. Five days after beating Donovan Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals (two earned runs on three hits and 13 strikeouts over six innings), Crotchfelt ran into a red-hot Red Bank Catholic lineup that touched him up for four runs on eight hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings. Crotchfelt did strike out eight, but a home run by Matt Scrivanic – the lone homer Crotchfelt allowed – broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth and ended his day.
That setback did not end Crotchfelt’s season, however. He bounced back with another dominant outing, holding Old Bridge to one unearned run on two hits and one walk while striking out 13 in six innings of work. That performance sent Jackson Memorial to the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals against Howell, where the Jaguars’ ended their state tournament run with a 3-2 loss to the Rebels.
Zack Crotchfelt 2022 Start-by-Start
|Bishop Eustace (Neutral)||3.2||2||4||0||2||7||L, 0-1|
|at Toms River East||6||0||0||0||1||13||W, 1-1|
|Toms River North||7||3||0||0||2||16||W, 2-1|
|at Central||6||5||3||2||6||13||W, 3-1|
|Williamstown (Neutral)||6.2||3||1||1||2||14||W, 4-1|
|vs. Brick Memorial||7||1||0||0||1||14||W, 5-1|
|vs. Southern (OCT)||7||1||0||0||4||11||W, 6-1|
|vs. Ranney (SCT)||6.2||5||2||2||4||9||W, 7-1|
|Donovan Catholic (SCT)||6||3||3||2||3||13||W, 8-1|
|Red Bank Catholic (SCT)||4.1||8||4||4||4||8||L, 8-2|
|vs. Old Bridge (NJSIAA)||6||2||1||0||1||13||W, 9-2|
One night after the state tournament loss, Crotchfelt and his teammates finally captured the tournament championship that has eluded an otherwise imposing program over the last four seasons. Jackson Memorial routed Central, 11-2, in the Ocean County Tournament final on June 8, with Crotchfelt providing the highlight with a bases-loaded single that skipped past the rightfielder and allowed Crotchfelt to circle the bases for the unofficial “Little League grand slam.”
"I was holding back tears," Crotchfelt said of walking off the field that night. "It's been a long four years to get to this point. I have been playing with a lot of these kids since I was six or seven years old, so knowing I won't really get a chance to play with them after this, it's tough, but I'm happy we could end on a high note."
That swing the most memorable of Crotchfelt’s offensive season, which set him apart from the other two SSN Pitcher of the Year finalists – Ben Schild of Middletown South and Anthony Gubitosi of Colts Neck. Each offered their unique merits on the mound, but Crotchfelt added a significant amount of offense for his team by hitting .359 with six doubles, three home runs and 27 RBI while spending most of the season hitting in the heart of the Jaguars order. One of Crotchfelt’s home runs was off another star pitcher – a solo shot off Leiter in a 4-3 Jaguars win over the Golden Eagles.
Crotchfelt pitched that Central game on April 25 with 10 days of rest and showed some rust in the process on a cool night in Bayville, walking six while striking out 13 and crossing the 100-pitch threshold for the first time during the season. The only other time Crotchfelt had more than five days of rest between starts the rest of the season was to set him up to pitch one of Jackson Memorial’s most impressive wins of the season.
With Ranney coming to town to face the Jaguars and Duke commit A.J. Gracia taking the ball, Jackson Memorial turned to Crotchfelt for the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 game. With the lineup backing up Crotchfelt, the Jackson Memorial ace held the Shore’s highest-scoring team to two runs over 6 2/3 innings while striking out nine on the way to a 9-2 Jaguars victory.
Facing a challenging slate of teams that included Bishop Eustace, Central, Red Bank Catholic and Ranney, and frequently pitching with scouts pointing their radar guns in his direction, Crotchfelt handled the pressure and put up the No. 1 strikeout total in the state, the No. 1 win total (nine) at the Shore along with four other players, the No. 10 ERA in the conference (1.18) and the third-highest innings total (65 1/3 innings) at the Shore.
Crotchfelt shared the spotlight at Jackson Memorial with junior teammate Charlie Meglio, who enjoyed an All-Shore season in his own right. The two were close enough that, sharing the same shoe size, they each gave the other one of their spikes, with both players sporting one white cleat and one black cleat for much of the season.
To add some personality to his white shoe, Crotchfelt had a number of kids in one of Jackson’s special needs classes sign the shoe, which he played in through the Shore Conference Tournament final.
Moments like that have been important for Crotchfelt’s perspective, which has constantly been challenged as a standout from the time he arrived at Jackson Memorial and even more so after he committed to Auburn University following his freshman season. Crotchfelt attended the MLB Draft Combine in San Diego and will now wait to see if and when a team selects him during the three-day draft that begins on July 17.
His expectation is that he will be at Auburn at the end of the summer and pitching for the Tigers for the next three seasons before he would again be eligible for the Draft.
With the Shore Conference producing some high-end talent and promising pitching prospects over the past decade – Ron Marinaccio, Jay Groome, Luca Dalatri, Shane Panzini and fellow 2022 draft hopefuls Trey Dombroski and Noah Dean – Crotchfelt could be the next name in that line, or one of the next names should he indeed head to campus.
“There is a really good situation waiting (at Auburn) for me,” Crotchfelt said. “I’ll have an opportunity to be in the rotation early on, so that’s important. Plus, coming out of this season, we’re in a situation where it’s just a family here and I don’t know if I’m ready to give that up. You watch the games down there and see the energy in those SEC stadiums and you see the passion. I want to be in that family, I want be in the dugout with those guys playing for something bigger than yourselves. Having the feeling of winning makes me want to do it even more.”