SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- A year ago, Ben White was not considered a marquee pitcher for the St. John’s Pioneers. With two outstanding pitchers in front of him, he didn’t need to be.
White was slotted as the team’s No. 3 pitcher, overshadowed by two senior hurlers who left an indelible mark in their careers here. Anthony Perry and Mike Badjo were the straws that stirred the drink for this club last season, helping guide the Pioneers to a 22-3 mark. With the departures of Perry and Badjo to graduation, this season White, now a senior, was catapulted to the forefront of the rotation.
In certain cases, transcending from a middle-of-the-rotation guy to becoming the team’s ace literally overnight can be a difficult undertaking. Some will grasp the roll with sheer ascendancy while others may buckle to the pressure that comes along with it.
In White’s case, he chose the former and it certainly has paid dividends for both himself and the Pioneers ever since. On Friday at Pioneer Field, White took the mound in preparation for his toughest challenge of the season to date. Against an offensive-minded BC High line up, White took the mound already with a plan in place. He knew he had to get ahead of hitters in the count, make sure his body would hold up to the rigors of a very warm and humid afternoon and maintain a faith that his teammates will scratch across enough runs to pull out a victory.
As a result, all three occurrences worked in unison. The 6-foot-3 right-hander held the Eagles in check throughout, surrendering just four hits and striking out nine and his teammates provided the offense, scoring five times in a 5-1 victory, improving to 12-3 on the year.
When asked about his lights out performance, White, like any unselfish player would, quickly diverted the attention to his teammates. White comes from the belief that there is no room for individual accolades.
“The team chemistry has really picked me up,” said White, who is 5-0 with 47 strikeouts. “We have pasta parties every Friday night and the team gets together, eats pasta and just hangs out and talks. This is a great group to be around. I think this year is probably the best it has ever been chemistry-wise since I’ve been here.”
When White takes the hill, he refuses to ever allow his mind to get caught up in the allure of a certain opponent or batter. He approaches every game with the same purpose -- keep the ball down in the strike zone and stay clear of opposing hitter’s strengths.
“I come into every game the same way,” he said. “I just want to win games and keep teams to minimal runs. I know BC High has two guys going on to play at Division 1 programs next year. (Ryan) Tufts is going to Virginia Tech and (Jake) Marotta is going to Bryant University. But I don’t think about that stuff.
"I just go out and try to keep the ball down in the zone and throw strikes. Most of the time I am very relaxed when I pitch. But whenever I do get tensed up (junior catcher) Scott Manea will come out and calm me down. Sometimes I need that a lot.”
The relationship between White and Manea began two years ago. It has grown into one of the finest pitcher-catcher combos state-wide. Manea is an exceptional backstop, possessing all the necessary tools. But perhaps his biggest attribute is in his preparation and knowledge of the game and his ability to work well with all the pitchers on the Pioneer staff and keep their focus levels at a high level.
“We’ve been together two years now and Scott would catch my bullpen sessions during the winter and knew all of my pitches which is huge,” White said. “He knows what I am dominant with and he knows the opposing hitters too. I have complete confidence in what he calls. Rarely do I ever shake him off because we are usually both thinking the same thing.”
Adds Manea, “With Ben, his goal is to keep the ball down and that’s what he focuses on,” he said. “I keep the glove low and he hits it probably 95 percent of the time. Today his slider wasn’t working that well so we basically went fastball change up most of the game. I can figure out with him during warm ups what he is throwing good and what he isn’t. His change up is the best one I have ever caught. His fastball hits his spots, up and down, left and right and when his slider is on it’s untouchable.”
White has already made a commitment to play for Holy Cross next season. Prior to Friday’s game, he spoke of his excitement regarding the fact the Crusaders are the No. 1 seed heading into this weekend’s best-of-three Patriot League Tournament semifinal round versus Bucknell. White is hopeful Holy Cross’ baseball success continues to flourish upon his arrival there next year.
After watching White mow down the Eagles with relative ease, St. John’s coach Charlie Eppinger says it is those kinds of perfomances that he has grown accustomed to. In the back of Eppinger's mind, he knows every time White takes the ball, the odds of a Pioneer victory increases substantially.
"Today was the Ben White we are use to seeing," said Eppinger. "He had one rough outing earlier in the year against New Bedford but has been real solid ever since. Against a great line up like (BC High’s) we knew we needed to have a great effort out of him to give us a chance to win and he gave that to us.
"This team has really supported him. Because we expect so much out of Ben, sometimes I think one player feels he needs to do it all. Not just with him but other players too. But that doesn’t need to be the case here. We have 20 players on this roster for a reason and we trust all of them."