SHREWSBURY, Mass. –- After watching his lefty workhorse dominate in one of St. John’s Prep’s biggest game of the year, Eagles coach Dan Letarte only had one response.
“Snyder’s back!” Letarte exclaimed in the dugout.
The senior lefthander very nearly went perfect against the loaded St. John’s lineup, throwing a complete game shutout with one walk and only a single hit: a base knock by P.J. Browne in the second inning.
The Pioneers boast one of the state’s best offenses, which includes North Carolina State commit Scott Manea, Virgina Tech commit Jake Rosen, juniors Tyler Mckeon and Charlie McDonald, as well as Browne, a Merrimack commit. Yet Snyder -- who will do a postgraduate year next year at Salisbury School (Conn.) -- mowed down the talented Pioneers lineup, finishing off the shutout on just 67 pitches.
“For him I think it’s his mental state," Letarte said. "He’s ready, and to be quite honest he was a little banged up – he’s fought through it the past few weeks. He’s finally healthy, sometimes pitchers when little things are wrong, when you get them back healthy it’s huge. It was a minor injury, nothing really big. It’s good having him healthy and happy, it looked like he had fun today."
Being fully healthy allowed Snyder to show off his full repertoire, painting the corners with his fastball, getting ahead in counts, and placing his breaking ball accordingly to force a groundout or flyout. That’s where Snyder credits Prep’s stellar defensive play.
“I got ahead early so that I was able to mix in more off speed. I have a great infield, so I was able to let them hit the ball. I don’t always have to strike kids out, that seemed to work today,” Snyder said.
Snyder’s fastball -- which comes in anywhere from low to mid-80’s -- has a slight, but natural, late bite on it – making it a deadly pitch when he can place it on the corners. By getting ahead of hitters early with his fastball, he then puts the hitter in a situation where they’re likely guessing about what pitch is coming in -– and a defensive swing is exactly what Snyder wants.
“I can usually dominate outside because I throw a little harder than most people so they can’t get around as easy," he said. "But some days I have better feel going [inside] than I do going [outside]. I usually try to drop an offspeed pitch middle or in because it’s harder to turn on and it usually makes them ground out. So if I can get ahead early and get groundouts, that’s usually when I’ll have success.”
Snyder finished with a no decision when he pitched against St. John’s a couple of weeks ago, but his command wasn’t quite as precise, often getting behind in counts and totaling over 100 pitches over five innings -- a performance he admits wasn’t his best. St. John’s coach Charlie Eppinger had high praise for Snyder after the game, who outdueled Pioneers’ star junior and Notre Dame commit Shane Combs.
“I was impressed with him, he came out here wanting to prove he could shut us down," Combs said. "He painted the corners well. He was getting ahead of our guys and he commanded that curveball back door, which helped him get ahead and stay ahead of a lot of hitters. It was a very fast game because both pitchers were just dealing.”
The Eagles have the best case of any team in the state to make the highly anticipated Super 8 tournament, which will consist of the top eight teams in the state. With Snyder’s emergence and senior lefty Evan Roberts’ downright dominant performance on the mound this season, Prep possesses one of the best one-two punches in the state.
“Snyder’s been a workhorse for two years ... That was definitely his best effort of the year,” Letarte said, “That’s a good hitting lineup up and down, all of them hit the ball extremely hard. Last time we played them, they hammered the ball at our place. That’s quite a reversal for Justin from the outing at the Prep to the outing here.”
Combs bringing it late for St. John’s: The Pioneers knew they had something special on their hands when Shane Combs rushed for over 1200 yards and 16 touchdowns during football season, helping lead the Pioneers to the Division 2 state championship game.
Then they saw him on the mound.
Combs has made a legitimate case as the state’s best pitcher in the second half of the year, throwing a no-hitter against No. 11 Leominster, shutting out No. 23 St. Peter-Marian, as well as a victory over Nashoba, last years’ Division 1 state runner-up.
“Certainly he came with an advanced reputation, but he struggled a little in March and April with his command and has really gotten better every single start," Pioneers coach Charlie Eppinger said. "He works tirelessly in between starts with our catcher, Scott Manea. Scott has helped him improve his command.”
Snyder said the dominant command was what made Snyder stand out: “He has great velocity, that’s just the first thing that jumps out. He’s got a great curve ball too, it comes from a down angle and it’s real hard to see. And he’s a competitor. Most of all, he’s a competitor.”
The bullpen sessions with Manea have significantly helped Combs. The big right-hander owns one of the state’s hardest fastballs -- with the majority of his fastballs, even late in the game, coming over in the high-80’s. Combs has a hard, sweeping curveball that is often good for a swinging strike even when it ends up in the dirt.
“He’s throwing the fastball and the curveball for a strike now. I thought he pitched exceptionally well today. I was very, very impressed by what Shane gave us, we just didn’t give him any offensive support,” Eppinger said.
Letarted called Combs' curveball “Probably the best curve ball I’ve faced the past two to three years."
"The way it dropped, the location. It’s tougher to hit, you’re always thinking about what’s coming next," he said. "You always tell guys to sit fastball and adjust for the curve, but when the curve is that devastating coming in it’s tough to get a good piece of that. The approaches with kids like [Combs] is ‘jump on that first fastball’.”
Combs (7 IP, 11K, 3 BB, 3 hits) put in one of his best pitching performance of the year against Prep, the state’s top-ranked team, which he credits completely as a result of all the time spent working with his ACC-bound catcher.
“I’ve spent a lot of time inbetween starts working in the bullpen with Scott,” said Combs, “My focus has just been [inside] and [outside], hitting the corners with both pitches. Now I have much better command, especially late in games. My mentality is that I just have to come out and pitch my best every time. For me it’s not about who’s in the box, it’s about me executing.”