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TOMS RIVER - Since the last time Shane Panzini pitched in an official high school baseball game, he has built himself into one of the best pitchers in his graduating class.

The Red Bank Catholic senior ace wanted to showcase his full arsenal in front of handful of Major League scouts but one batter into his senior season, he got beat for a single by Toms River North leadoff hitter and senior shortstop Nick Mortellito.

While the first batter did not go as planned, the first overall game in nearly two whole years could not have gone much better for Panzini and the Caseys.

Reaching up to 96 miles-per-hour with his fastball Monday, Panzini looked the part of a potential early-round MLB Draft pick by striking out 14 with two walks in a two-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over Toms River North - the No. 5 team in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10.

"We were waiting for this for (two) years now," Panzini said. "We were really excited to get out here and play. The scrimmages just didn't feel the same. Even the bus ride here was just exciting."

Red Bank Catholic senior Shane Panzini. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Red Bank Catholic senior Shane Panzini reacts to one of his 14 strikeouts. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Mortellito's single to right field on a 95 mile-per-hour fastball from Panzini was a rousing start for Toms River North and the Mariners had a chance to jump on top of the No. 3 Caseys when Mortellito stole second and made it to third base on a passed ball.

Panzini, however, struck out three straight batters to deny Toms River North the run, capped by a 96 mile-per-hour heater to finish off the inning. Panzini struck out nine of the first 12 hitters he faced, with Mortellito the only batter who put the ball in play (he also grounded out in the top of the third).

"That was where I wanted to throw that pitch," Panzini said of the hit by Mortellito. "It was a fastball inside and he just got a piece of it and beat me to that side. I was like, 'Damn,' but respect to him."

Four of Panzini's strikeouts came on his slider, which had a sharp bite Monday at 83-to-85 miles-per-hour. All four of the slider-powered punchouts came in the first four innings.

When it was time to bear down, Panzini went to his fastball. He pumped 93 miles-per-hour past the top two hitters in the lineup for two strikeouts to end the top of the sixth and after the Mariners put the ball in play for the first two outs of the seventh, Panzini finished off the game's final batter with one more heater.

"After the first time through the order, I realized which kids could time up a fastball so I kind of used that throughout the game," Panzini said. "I knew before the game that I was going to go the whole game. I had that mentality, especially since last week, I didn't do what I wanted to on the mound. I had to show up for my teammates."

Panzini's dominant performance was an improvement on his final preseason outing, in which he walked six batters and needed 86 pitches to get through three innings against Jackson Memorial. He made an adjustment after the start, moving from the left side of the rubber to the right side to keep himself from throwing across his body.

"I was watching some footage from my start against Jackson and I could see I was throwing across my body," Panzini said. "I realized if I went to the other side of the mound, that wouldn't happen anymore. That game wasn't the way I wanted it to be and I knew coming into today I had to pitch a lot better for my team to have a chance to win.

"I'm happy it happened that way so I was ready for today. My teammates were giving me some stuff about it, like, 'We thought you were better than that, what happened?'"

Sophomore catcher Shane Andrus helped his pitcher out by cutting down two would-be base-stealers for Toms River North - one to end the fourth and another in the sixth. Toms River North centerfielder Zach Goodale - a Rutgers football signee - led off the sixth by dropping a bunt for a hit, then stole second base easily. He tried to swipe third as well, but Panzini delivered the ball home quickly and Andrus fired a strike to third baseman Matt Scrivanic, who applied the tag on Goodale in plenty of time for the second out of the sixth. Panzini notched his 13th strikeout on the next pitch.

"I wish every game was like that," Panzini said. "There is so much adrenaline. Your teammates are all pulling for you, the other team is rooting against you. In this case, the parents were rooting against me pretty hard, but it was just overall fun."

In order for Panzini's effort to pay off, Red Bank Catholic had to manufacture some offense against Toms River North senior left-hander Brandon Valles. For the first three innings, RBC went hitless against Valles and Valles got the first two outs of the fourth as well. Even when RBC sophomore Alex Stanyek ripped a two-out single into left, Valles retired the next batter to complete four scoreless frames.

Toms River North senior Brandon Valles. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Toms River North senior Brandon Valles. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

In the fifth inning, however, Red Bank Catholic finally broke through and did so with the bottom of the order. Freshman leftfielder Sean Griggs singled into centerfield to lead it off and moved to second on a wild pitch after a failed sacrifice bunt attempt.

Senior shortstop Sean Ettore followed with the first strike of the game - a sharp line drive that hit the uneven infield and skipped past Toms River North second baseman Ryan Baker for an RBI single, with Griggs sliding in just ahead of the throw from rightfielder Sean Mindas.

Griggs reached for the third time in three trips to the plate by again singling to lead off the top of the seventh and this time moved to second on a successful sacrifice bunt by junior second baseman Nico Gonzalez, who executed two of his three sacrifice attempts in the game.

"The bottom of the order did a nice job," Red Bank Catholic coach Buddy Hausman said. "Sean Griggs was on three times in his first game as a freshman. Nico does a nice job on two out of three bunts, Sean does a good job putting the ball in play when we need a big hit."

Ettore grounded out to first base to push Griggs to third and senior centerfielder Anthony Borriello - after striking out in each of his first three at-bats - jumped on the first pitch for a line-drive, RBI single to left to score Griggs.

Red Bank Catholic freshman Sean Griggs. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Red Bank Catholic freshman Sean Griggs. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

"Shoutout to Sean Griggs," Panzini said. "Freshman at RBC, had two big hits, scored both runs, so respect to him too."

Panzini then finished off his complete game while also staying under 100 pitches (97) in his first start of what will be a pivotal two months in his baseball life. His performance will determine whether or not a Major League club wants to make him a substantial offer to sign out of high school and the size of that offer will, in part, determine whether or not Panzini will turn pro or honor his commitment to the University of Virginia.

"I think he is prepared (to pitch seven innings), I think he is built that way," Hausmann said. "He's a senior and that's what we have let our seniors do here. It's kind of a feel thing and he's built to last in a game. You don't see him getting tired or losing velocity or losing the strike zone, so that makes it easier to stick with him."

With a full day of work on opening day behind him, Panzini will get four days of rest before taking the mound again Saturday against Delbarton in the Autism Awareness benefit at North Brunswick Community Park. Two years ago, Red Bank Catholic faced Delbarton ace and potential No. 1 pick in this year's draft, Jack Leiter, and this time, RBC will throw its own draft hopeful.



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