When Steve Shuler walks onto the campus of Philadelphia University this fall, his academic pursuits will be in the field of engineering. But he's also a student of history.
"I can tell you about every playoff game that the Crispins played in," Shuler said. "I can tell you about every South Jersey final, every state game, and the Tournament of Champions. I remember it all."
Shuler understands that in a small town like Pitman, a run to a state title is huge. He learned that in the late 1990s when Joe and Jon Crispin earned the Panthers state basketball recognition. Shuler was so dedicated to the program that 5 days after Jon Crispin signed his letter of intent to Penn State, the 7-year-old and his father went out and had a Penn State basketball jersey made up with Crispin's No. 5 and name emblazoned on the back.
The question is, where is the kid with the Pitman baseball jersey, with No. 8 stitched on the back?
Shuler lived the impossible dream on Saturday as he threw a 5-0 shutout against Whippany Park to secure the first baseball state title in school history. Shuler, who entered the year with no more than 15 innings of varsity pitching experience, capped a 10-1 season with a 13-strikeout effort in the Group 1 state final at Toms River East.
And exactly how did Shuler celebrate? He played baseball 1 day later for the Washington Township American Legion Team.
"Yeah, they're a pretty good group of guys," Shuler said. "You know, they won their state title when we were freshmen. I just had to wait 3 years more.
"Playing for them really puts into perspective what a difference it is to play for Pitman. We have something like 9,000 people in our town. It felt like all of them made it to Toms River [Saturday] to support us whether they had a kid on the team or not. Washington Township has, what, 1,700 in its high school? It's just a different world."
It's not that Shuler never pitched before this season. He's pitched throughout his life, but when Rob Cressman and Adam Satanoff are a year ahead of you in school, it tends to limit your appearances.
"He missed 10 games last year with a high ankle sprain as well," Pitman coach Gene Reid said. "But I never doubted he would work hard and be ready for us this season. He was a workhorse and I think I knew in our first game of the year at Campbell's Field against Clayton, he had the stuff to get the job done."
"I knew coming into this season that I had the stuff to dominate Group 1," Shuler said. "Before this year my job and my role was to bat first or ninth, get on base and play good defense in the outfield. This year, I knew my role would increase and I was eager to show what I could do.
"That's kind of how I looked at college. I wanted to find a good fit and a place where I could pitch and play outfield."
And so Shuler secured his own place in Pitman history on Saturday when he created a spot for himself on the school mantel along with the Crispins.
After winning the title, Shuler and his teammates were welcomed back to town with the same type of impromptu parade that greeted Pitman's state basketball champions.
"The parade was great," Reid said. "The fire trucks, every corner there were people out there cheering us on. It was great."
"When you play the regular season, you play for your school, your coaches and your classmates," Shuler said. "When you play in the playoffs, you play for the whole town.
"I even signed my first autograph last week. That was pretty cool."
West Essex 2, Audubon 1: The Green Wave entered the state final having won 16 of 17, but couldn't generate enough offense in the loss. Audubon fell just short of its seventh state title but has a core of young players, including sophomore pitcher Kevin Kramer, seasoned for next year.
Cranford 15, Ocean City 3: The first team in Cape-Atlantic history to reach the state final had its season rudely ended.
Gloucester Catholic 7, Morristown-Beard 5: The Rams extended their state record of state titles to 14. It was the seventh title for coach Dennis Barth, the most in school history. *