Baseball – SSN Player and Pitcher of the Year: Shane Panzini, Red Bank Catholic
From the day he committed to the University of Virginia at the end of his sophomore season, the prospect of being drafted by a Major League Baseball organization became a reality and has progressed into a likelihood for recent Red Bank Catholic graduate Shane Panzini.
Since the final day of his sophomore season, when he pitched a two-hit shutout to lead Red Bank Catholic to the Shore Conference Tournament championship, Panzini has less looked forward to the start of this year’s draft on July 11 and more toward his chance to suit up again for his high-school team.
The wait was longer than expected but when Panzini finally got to again don the green and gold of RBC, he not only delivered on his promise, but he took his young teammates with him.
During a dominant 2021 senior season, Panzini led Red Bank Catholic to a second straight Shore Conference Tournament championship, the No. 1 ranking in the final Shore Sports Network Top 10 and to the cusp of its first NJSIAA sectional championship since 1997 while overpowering opponents on the mound, mashing at the plate and instilling confidence in his teammates as the team’s top player.
Other players in the Shore Conference turned in stellar 2021 seasons but Panzini was a man among boys in a talented conference. Not only is he the slam-dunk choice for the 2021 Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year, but the University of Virginia commit and likely draft pick come mid-July is the overall Player of the Year as well.
The cancellation of the 2020 spring season due to the COVID-19 pandemic took away a chance for Panzini to compete with the graduating senior class from last year while potentially laying the groundwork for a huge final two seasons with the Caseys. In the meantime, Panzini continued to develop and improve as a pitcher by turning himself into a potential top-100 pick in the upcoming draft and one of the better right-handers in the 2021 graduating class.
With a bright future ahead, a high-school season might seem like small potatoes, but from the day pitchers and catchers reported for their first practice in late March, Panzini’s sole focus was leading Red Bank Catholic as far as the Caseys could go in his final year. Even though RBC had Panzini leading the rotation, the rest of the pitching staff lacked experience and only Panzini and classmate Anthony Borriello returned with a significant number of at-bats from the last time there was a baseball season.
Even with only three seniors in the regular starting nine – four when senior right-hander and No. 2 starter Dylan Wanagiel pitched – Red Bank Catholic went a Shore-Conference-best 24-5-1, won both the Class A Central division and Shore Conference Tournament championships, finished No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and came within one play of winning the program’s first NJSIAA sectional championship in 24 years.
To assert Panzini was the best player on the Shore’s best team would not properly convey just how good the Caseys senior was. As a pitcher, he finished No. 1 in the Shore Conference multiple noteworthy statistical categories among pitchers with at least 30 innings: overall record (9-0), innings pitched (61 2/3), strikeouts (115), WHIP (0.78) and strikeouts per seven innings (13.05). At the plate, he was also Red Bank Catholic’s leader in batting average (.398), on-base percentage (.525) and slugging percentage (.602) while tying for the team lead in home runs (four).
What made Panzini’s season on paper additionally impressive is that he demanded the ball against the Caseys’ top opponents and coach Buddy Hausmann happily obliged from the very start of the season. After pitching a two-hit shutout at Toms River North on opening day, Panzini came back with the minimum rest of four days to pitch a 15-strikeout one-hitter in a win over Delbarton at the Autism Awareness benefit in North Brunswick.
Shane Panzini By Start in 2021
|at Toms River North||7||2||0||0||2||14||W|
|vs. Delbarton (Neutral)||7||1||0||0||2||15||W|
|vs. Howell (SCT)||7||4||2||2||2||8||W|
|vs. Wall (SCT)||5||3||2||2||4||7||W|
|at Manalapan (SCT)||2||0||0||0||1||5||W|
|vs. Midd South (SCT)||6||3||0||0||0||12||W|
|vs. St. Joe's (NJSIAA)||1.1||0||0||0||0||4||SV|
|at Bishop Eustace (NJSIAA)||7||3||1||1||1||12||W|
|vs. CBA (MCT)||6.1||2||1||1||5||14||W|
|Totals||61.2||26||10||8||22||115||9-0, 1 SV|
From there, Panzini went on to start nine games and pitch out of the bullpen in two more, drawing starting assignments against high-scoring teams from Wall, Howell, Rumson-Fair Haven and Middletown South. The only start in which he failed to nail down a win was an extra-innings loss to Rumson-Fair Haven, in which Panzini allowed one unearned run before having to depart after seven innings with the game tied at 1-1.
Panzini’s best stretch of the season came with his team not only playing top competition but doing so in a tournament setting. After vanquishing both Howell and Wall in back-to-back rounds of the Shore Conference Tournament, Panzini was available to pitch in relief at second-seeded Manalapan in the SCT semifinals. After Red Bank Catholic rallied to tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the seventh, Hausmann made the move to Panzini for the bottom of the inning and his ace rewarded him by firing two hitless innings with five strikeouts. Even better for Hausmann and Panzini, RBC scored three runs in the top of the eighth inning to seal the win and reach the Shore Conference Tournament final for the second straight season.
Eligible for 110 pitches in the championship game, Panzini took the ball at the start and pitched, arguably, his best game of the season. Facing eventual NJSIAA Group IV champion Middletown South, the 6-foot-3 right-hander fired six shutout innings with three hits and no walks allowed while striking out 12 Eagles. With only 85 pitches through six innings and his team leading 7-0, Panzini was held back from pitching the seventh in order to keep him eligible to pitch in RBC’s NJSIAA Tournament opener against St. Joseph of Metuchen four days later.
The move by Hausmann paid off. With the Caseys leading the Falcons, 4-0, in the top of the sixth inning, St. Joseph loaded the bases with two out before lightning threw the game into a delay. When the teams returned to the field a little more than an hour later, Panzini took the mound, struck out the final batter of the sixth, then struck out the side in order in the seventh to close out the win.
The South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinal win at Count Basie set the stage for a trip to Pennsauken to face the No. 1 team in the state – 21-0 Bishop Eustace – with Panzini fully rested. The Crusaders were hoping to counter Panzini with projected first-round draft pick and North Carolina commit Anthony Solometo, but the ace was unable to pitch because of what multiple sources described as a pinched nerve in his neck.
Although Bishop Eustace still boasted an imposing lineup and countered with Rutgers-bound right-hander Danny Kerr, Panzini stole the show. His fastball clocked in as high as 97 miles-per-hour, hit 96 miles-per-hour six times in the first two innings, and worked in concert with a devastating slider that baffled the Crusaders hitters throughout the game.
As Panzini continued to set down batter after batter, his offense backed him up with some early fireworks and he was a big part of it. RBC scored four runs in the first three innings, highlighted by a towering solo home run by Panzini on the first pitch of the top of the third inning to extend RBC’s lead to 4-0.
That lead was more than enough for Panzini, who bullied the six right-handed hitters in the Bishop Eustace lineup to the tune of 0-for-15 with 11 strikeouts and one walk. The walk came on a borderline 3-2 pitch to the No. 9 hitter and wound up the lone run the Crusaders would score in the 6-1 loss to the Caseys.
When the smoke cleared, Panzini had pitched a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts and one walk to hand the Crusaders their first and only loss of the season and send RBC to the sectional final round for the first time since winning Non-Public B back in 1997, when Hausmann was the junior ace of the staff.
In the title game at St. Augustine, Panzini contributed to another early offensive outburst with a first-inning RBI single as the Caseys jumped out to a 5-0 lead with Wanagiel on the mound. St. Augustine spent the middle innings chipping away and desperately scrambling to keep alive their hopes of a fourth straight NJSIAA sectional championship, but sophomore Alex Stanyek pitched his team out of trouble in the fifth and sixth innings to preserve a 5-4 lead and retired the first two batters of the bottom of the seventh on strikeouts.
One out away from a title, Stanyek induced a routine ground ball to second base, but Nico Gonzalez’s bobble gave speedy No. 9 hitter Josiah Ragsdale just enough time to beat it out and keep the game going. That speed then tied the game, as Ragsdale stole three straight bases with two out – including a straight steal of home on a 1-2 pitch to tie the game at 5-5.
One inning later, Kyle Neri ended the game with a long double to left field to score the winning run from second and the Hermits pulled out a stunning, 6-5 win in eight inning.
Panzini was a month away from possibly hearing his named called as the selection of a Major League organization in the draft, but in that moment, he shared in the heartbreak with the rest of his teammates. Had the Caseys held on to win, Panzini would have taken the ball on June 16 against St. Joseph Montvale – the team that finished the season No. 1 in the state – with the Non-Public A championship and, potentially, the No. 1 ranking in the state on the line.
Instead, Panzini’s final start came in the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals against local rival CBA. The Caseys ace walked a season-high five batters, hit another and was unable to finish the game in under 110 pitches, but he still struck out 14, gave up just one run on two hits over 6 1/3 innings to improve to 9-0, went 3-for-3 with an RBI, and sent his team to its third tournament championship game of the season.
Shane Panzini Career Stats
Panzini now awaits to hear his name called as early as June 11, when the first 29 picks of the MLB Draft will be announced, or, more likely, the following day for Day 2 of the festivities. Panzini has increased his stock over the past month, according to several scouts, and is considered a candidate to be drafted in the first two rounds if a team decides to meet his asking price for breaking his commitment with the University of Virginia.
Whatever Panzini’s next move in baseball is, he leaves Red Bank Catholic having established himself as arguably the top player in the program’s history despite losing his entire junior season, joining a conversation that includes former Major Leaguer Ryan Kalish and Hausmann – the latter of whom had his single-season strikeout record of 108 shattered by Panzini’s 115 this season.
The Caseys won two SCT championships on Panzini’s back and while they came up just shy of the elusive South Non-Public A title, Panzini leaves behind a group of hungry young players who got a taste of winning and are ready to build on their senior leader’s gaudy legacy.