The second after he achieved the most difficult task in sports, using a round bat to make contact with a round ball while not knowing the speed or trajectory of the pitch coming toward him, with the game on the line, no less, Scott Shaw knew what he’d done.
He knew the ball was headed over the fence. He knew he had turned a negative, Cherry Hill West just two outs away from its season ending, into a positive, the Lions moving three outs away from the program’s first sectional championship in 26 years.
What he didn’t know was how he’d handle rounding the bases as West fans went bonkers at the crowded baseball field at Triton Regional High School.
“I was trying to decide if I wanted to act like, you know, I’d been here before, or get really excited,” said Shaw, a soft-spoken, 6-4 senior who will play at Rider University next year. “And then once I got to third and I gave Mac a high-five, I started yelling and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to stay calm.’ I’ve got to enjoy it.”
Shaw greeted West coach Dan McMaster at third and was mobbed by his teammates at home plate.
He delivered the game-winning blast and season-defining moment. Four innings earlier, he crashed into the portable fence in center to rob Triton of a two-run home run.
Cherry Hill West had a collection of talented seniors perform en route to the program’s first South Jersey title since 1993, but Shaw was the man of the moment in the win that clinched the trophy and he was South Jersey’s most consistent elite player this spring.
The sweet-swinging lefty hit .470 with 14 extra-base hits (including five home runs) in 30 games. Shaw scored 31 runs, knocked in 32, drew 31 walks, stole 11 bases, and had an eye-popping .620 on-base percentage.
Shaw had the production and the performance deserving of the following distinction: he is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s Baseball Player of the Year.
“It’s a great honor,” Shaw said. “I never really expected it. It’s funny, (my hitting instructor) Mike Scanzano told me right before the season, you’re going to be the Player of the Year this year. He said, there’s no more pressure, you know where you’re going, just go out there and do it. And I ended up doing it.”
Shaw had his bat working all season, from the first week (3-for-4, with a triple, a home run and four RBI vs. Washington Township), through the Lions’ Easter break road trip Virginia Beach (five hits, including two doubles and another home run in two games), and the grueling Olympic Conference schedule in May (two hits, two walks and two runs against eventual Group 4 state runner-up Eastern).
It’s almost as if he was locked in at the plate, in the proverbial zone, for the entire two-month season.
“One game,” Shaw said with a laugh. “The second game here against (Bishop) Eustace, which got called for darkness. I was the last guy who hit and I struck out on three fastballs. I just couldn’t see it. … Other than that, confident all year.”
A so-called singles hitter early in his high school career, Shaw came into his own in his final prep season. By taking advantage of his physical strength and growing confidence, he became a dangerous hitter.
“It’s a testament to his talent, his work ethic and the support of his family,” McMaster said. “When one of your best players and team leaders is also one of your hardest workers, it has a positive impact on the entire program. As he’s matured and gotten physically stronger, he’s also refined his approach at the plate. He understands the strike zone as well as any player that I have coach and he doesn’t miss his pitch.”
— Philip Anastasia (@PhilAnastasia) May 31, 2019
On the final day of May, with his team two outs away from elimination, Shaw surely didn’t miss the pitch. Although, to be fair, it wasn’t what he’d usually call his pitch.
Shaw’s game-winning home run in the seventh inning of the South Jersey Group 3 championship game came on an 0-1 curveball.
“I don’t swing at curveballs unless you have two strikes and I try to get a good fastball early in the count and hit that, let a curveball go,” he said. “At least in high school, where it’s hard for guys to locate curveballs consistently inside the zone. But you know, the circumstances, it was 0-1 already, it was hanging. I just let it fly.”
And the rest is history, perhaps one of the biggest moments not only in Cherry Hill West baseball history, but school history, too.
“It’s a moment he and his teammates had been working toward their entire careers, playing Little League and middle school and now high school together,” McMaster said, “with the goal of winning a championship.”