Heading into the 2021-’22 season, Cherokee junior Evan Brown looked forward to finally playing an entire year on the baseball diamond for the Chiefs.
After a freshman season that was canceled by the pandemic and a sophomore year in which he was limited to just 21 at-bats due to a hip fracture early in the season, it’s now safe to say that Brown cashed in on the opportunity he’d been waiting for all that time.
So after a junior season where Brown led the Olympic Conference in hits while also leading Cherokee in home runs en route to the team’s first sectional title in a decade, the cherry on top was being able to hit a home run over the left field wall at Citizens Bank Park during the semifinal round of the Carpenter Cup Tournament.
“This whole year has been crazy,” Brown said. “No matter how I did, I just wanted to be able to enjoy it … so being able to do what we did as a team and being able to play in the Carpenter Cup, hitting that home run was just the icing on the cake really.”
For his accomplishments this past season, Brown is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2021-’22 Baseball Player of the Year.
Again, Brown’s journey was long and tough; he racked up 10 hits in those 21 at-bats before his hip fracture, eagerly looking forward to making a name for himself in the county, conference and state at the high-school level in just his sophomore year.
Instead, that twist of fate forced the then-sophomore to watch the rest of the season play out from the bench while he recovered. Fortunately, Brown healed nicely in time for his junior year and was excited about the potential the Chiefs had going into the season.
“This was going to be my last year playing with a lot of guys that I’d been playing with for years, so it was a blessing that it got to play out this way,” Brown said. “Last year was terrible, having to sit … and watch the guys play when I couldn’t be a part of it. So this year, I was really thankful to get to be a part of it again.”
Cherokee coach Marc Petragnani looked forward to seeing Brown on the field this spring, after an encouraging recovery and summer workout regimen had left Brown seemingly quicker and stronger than before.
“I never doubted what he was capable of despite the injuries and inconsistencies with being able to get on the field,” Petragnani said. “I knew he’d had a fantastic summer and we fully expected to carry on into his junior year.”
At the start of the season, the coach was unsure exactly where Brown might hit in the lineup, but figured somewhere in the first three spots would work. The junior ended up being penciled in to lead off the game and ran with the role, proving an essential part of the Chiefs’ offense.
“He was absolutely the catalyst to our offense; he always saw the first pitch of the game for us,” Petragnani said. “He was on base 46.7 percent of the time … Whenever you get your leadoff hitter that frequently, you’re always setting up big innings.”
Heading into the past season, Brown said his goal was to hit above .400: He hit for a .402 average by season’s end, while surprising even himself by hitting a team-high five home runs.
As Brown prepares for his final season at Cherokee, he has a fighting chance to reach the 100-hit mark for his career, something that may have seemed ambitious after he collected just 10 hits during his first two high-school seasons – through no fault of his own.
Thanks to his Carpenter Cup play, Brown was able to connect and practice quite a bit with Northern Burlington’s Drew Wyers, who led the Greyhounds in hits, home runs, RBIs, runs and stolen bases. The standout player – despite being just one year older than Brown – stuck out in terms of how he played the game and his approach at the plate.
Next season, Brown looks forward to elevating his game and maybe utilizing some of what he learned from Wyers during his last season at Cherokee.
“In getting the chance to play with [Wyers] in the Carpenter Cup,” Brown said, “he’s become a little bit of a role model for me and he’s a really good kid. I wouldn’t say I want to model my season after his, but I want to do something similar to what he was able to do.
“I want to do better than I did this past season,” he added, “and that means shooting closer to .500 and, now that I know what kind of power I have, I want to hit 10-plus home runs.
“I just want to exceed everything that I did this year.”