Camden Catholic, arguably South Jersey's most explosive baseball team, met one of the region's premier pitchers, Deptford senior righthander Sheldon Johnson, in yesterday's intriguing nonleague matchup.
With a handful of major-league scouts watching, the hard-throwing Johnson limited Camden Catholic to three hits and one run while striking out 10 in six innings, leading host Deptford to a 5-3 victory.
"I like the way he challenges hitters, the way he goes right after you and says, 'Here it is, try to hit it,' " Camden Catholic coach Bob Moffett said.
"He's the best pitcher in South Jersey," Deptford shortstop Nate Fisher said.
Fisher, Deptford's leadoff hitter, played a key role in the Spartans' ninth straight victory. The senior walked, singled, scored two runs, contributed a sacrifice fly and turned a slick double play to help Deptford sophomore closer Dean Schaber get out of a last-inning jam.
Fisher said the fact that Camden Catholic qualified for the prestigious Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic - and Deptford didn't - keyed yesterday's win.
"You use it for motivation to take it to them," he said.
When the muscular 6-foot-2, 205-pound Johnson is on the mound, Deptford (13-3), No. 6 in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings, has taken it to a lot of teams this spring. The highly athletic Johnson, who played quarterback on Deptford's football team, is now 5-1.
"I was motivated all day today," Johnson said. "I knew they were a good team and I walked around school with a baseball all day, working on my grips. I couldn't wait to face them."
Johnson's fastball was clocked between 87 and 91 m.p.h. for most of yesterday's game; he mixed in sliders, splitters and curves. "He was able to change speeds to set up his fastball and keep them off-balance," Deptford coach Tim Taylor said.
Camden Catholic (12-6), which had its five-game winning streak snapped, had reached double figures in eight of its previous nine games.
Deptford pushed across two fifth-inning runs - one on Dave Prager's sacrifice fly, the other on a passed ball - to take a 3-1 lead off righthander Brian Rice (5 innings, 2 earned runs). The Spartans tacked on two important insurance runs in the sixth, scoring on a wild pitch and on Fisher's sacrifice fly.
With Deptford holding a 5-1 lead, Taylor replaced Johnson with Schaber at the start of the seventh. Even if Deptford hadn't scored its two insurance runs, Johnson would not have pitched the seventh, Taylor said, noting that the righthander had thrown 107 pitches.
"The wins are important, but he's such a talented kid and we have to look out for his arm," Taylor said. "And we're comfortable with our bullpen."
Camden Catholic cut the lead to 5-3 and had runners on first and second when Schaber struck out Henry Chou, looking, on a 3-2 fastball to end the game.
Johnson said he will probably attend Louisburg (N.C.) Junior College, though he will consider his options if he is drafted by a major-league team next month.
"My mom and dad want me to go to college," he said, smiling, "but if someone offered enough money, I'm gone."
Notes. DH Jim Tarabocchia had two hits for Camden Catholic, which will play Egg Harbor Township in tomorrow's Diamond Classic. EHT is coached by Rich Chini, who was a standout centerfielder for Moffett at Camden Catholic in the mid '90s. . . . Johnson had some uncharacteristic control problems as he walked five. He said Deptford's maintenance workers made some adjustments to the mound yesterday and that it affected his delivery. "I couldn't get the dirt to break down and my pitches were high," he said. In 39 innings, Johnson has struck out 48, walked 14 and allowed just 25 hits.
Camden Catholic1000002 - 381
Deptford100022x - 570
WP: Sheldon Johnson. LP: Brian Rice.
2B: D–Ricky Rodgers. CC–Lou Barbieri.