Shawnee will play for the second state baseball title in school history today when the Renegades face JFK Iselin in the 1 p.m. Group 3 championship game at Toms River East.
Sean Doolittle is pulling for his alma mater, hoping the players get to experience something that will always remain a big part of his life.
Currently a rightfielder for the Sacramento River Cats, the triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A's, Doolittle feels proud to have been part of the first Shawnee championship team. It wasn't just winning the title that made the event so memorable, but the manner in which it was accomplished.
On a Tuesday night at Toms River South's neutral field, Shawnee won that first state title by defeating Kearney, 5-3, in nine innings in the Group 4 state championship game. A lefthander, Doolittle showed endurance, guts and, of course, plenty of talent. He pitched a complete game, striking out 23. His previous career high in strikeouts was 13. He allowed just six hits and didn't walk a batter.
"Even though I have kind of hung it up as a pitcher, that is still probably to this day my favorite baseball memory," Doolittle said last week by phone.
His reaction when his alma mater earned a berth in the state final?
"Sweet," Doolittle said.
There are a lot of similarities between the 2003 and 2009 Shawnee teams, with the biggest being on the mound.
Like that team, Shawnee has an intimidating ace in righthander Anthony Montefusco, who has struck out 28 in winning his last two playoff games.
"I have told our players that we have a lot in common with that 2003 team," said coach Brian Anderson, who was also Shawnee's coach then. "Both groups are made of players who have put the team first."
Doolittle can remember just about everything about his playoff run that junior season, most notably that final game in which he improved his record to 12-1.
"I had so much adrenaline that I wasn't that tired," said Doolittle, who is hitting .267 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 105 at-bats.
When he woke up the next morning, it was a different story.
"The next day I was a mess," he recalled, laughing. "I felt like I had a full body workout, and I was very sore."
He was so sore that he didn't go to school. It's probably best because Doolittle was up most of the night.
"I was so excited that I wasn't able to fall asleep that night," he said. "My mom let me hang out, and I relaxed by the pool."
These are the memories that a state championship provides, and as the years pass, they seem to become even more special.
"I was emotionally on such a high, winning the first state title in school history," he said. "We had a close-knit group of guys and were tight with the seniors, and we were so excited to accomplish it."
Then laughing, he added, "Shawnee was always a football and basketball school, and for us to get a title was awesome, and we were digging on ourselves after that."
Doolittle is on the disabled list with a torn patellar tendon in his left knee and hopes to be back within five weeks. He is putting in hours each day working hard to return, and now he will be rooting hard for his alma mater.
"Hopefully, they can play well," he said.
Left unsaid is the fact that he hopes the players at Shawnee can enjoy that same feeling he experienced as a high school player, one that likely won't ever leave him regardless of how far his professional career takes him.