Steve Schuler enters every game that he pitches with confidence that he can win, and based on the results for the Pitman senior lefthander, that thinking is certainly justified. The thought of getting a save never enters his mind.
Schuler's high school career has been extended mainly because he was able to do both during Pitman's 6-4 win over Pennsville in Friday's South Jersey Group 1 quarterfinals.
The difficult road continues for No. 3-seeded Pitman, which will host No. 7 Gloucester, most likely on Tuesday in the Group 1 semifinal. Pitman (19-3) has beaten Gloucester twice, but the last one took nine innings in a 6-5 verdict on May 10.
At this time of year, all that teams want to do is advance. Even if it means throwing some extra pitches while your arm is fine but your legs feel like jelly.
This was the case with Schuler, who was having trouble throwing strikes Friday to what wasn't the biggest of strike zones. He left the game for what he thought was for good after six innings, leading by 6-2 and having thrown 113 pitches.
When Pennsville cut the lead to 6-3 on single, walk, and an RBI single by Lee Kite in the seventh inning, Schuler was summoned back to the mound.
Pennsville didn't make it easy. After Schuler got a fly out for the second out, he walked the next two batters - the second, with the bases loaded, forcing in the fourth run. Finally, freshman rightfielder Trevor Datz made an outstanding diving catch in foul territory to end Schuler's long day on the mound.
"I can throw all day, but I could barely move my legs," Schuler said. "This was the hardest game I played in my high school career."
Schuler only allowed four hits and two runs, but he walked nine and basically gutted it out to improve to 8-1.
Pitman coach Gene Reid wasn't looking ahead when he took out Schuler. He saw the high pitch count in 84-degree weather and felt it was enough.
Schuler felt the same way, but when Pennsville rallied, Schuler lobbied to return.
"At this time of year, you do anything to win," said Schuler, who has accepted a baseball/academic scholarship to Philadelphia University.
Pitman broke a 1-1 tie with four runs in the third inning on RBI singles by Dylan Colgate, Roy Langlois and Ryan Dill and a sacrifice fly by Matt Ennis.
The Panthers weren't exactly crushing the ball, but were getting the job done. When Colgate hit his second home run in two postseason games for a 6-1 lead in the fourth, it appeared as if the Panthers would cruise.
No. 8 seed Pennsville (12-8) has both a proud tradition and team, but the Eagles couldn't overcome stranding 11 runners.
"We left too many men on base and didn't take advantage of our opportunities," coach Matt O'Brien said.
And in that final inning when the Eagles were taking advantage of their chances, Schuler closed the door, even if it didn't shut immediately.
"I've never had a save before," he said.
In a way, he hopes not to have one again. Schuler would rather finish what he starts – without any interruption.
"I'm really excited," Schuler said. "You never want it to end."
That's why he was willing to do anything to save not only a game but the season for Pitman.
Pennsville 100 001 2 - 4 6 1
Pitman 014 100 x - 6 12 0
WP: Steve Schuler. LP: Dominic Wyshinski. 2B: PE–Keith Wilson. HR: PI–Dylan Colgate.