BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — After facing each other Friday in front of approximately 30 professional baseball scouts and an unusually large crowd for a regular season game, Niskayuna senior center fielder Garrett Whitley and Shenendehowa junior pitcher Ian Anderson agreed on two things.
First off, the one-on-one matchup between the two star prospects was business as usual for each of them, and just a piece of a 9-1 Suburban Council decision that went Shenendehowa’s way on its home field.
“I hate to say it, but it was just another game,” Anderson said.
“Every game is the same,” said Whitley. “It doesn’t matter who’s there to watch.”
Secondly, both acknowledged none of the game’s spectators agreed with them.
The chance to see Prep Baseball Report’s top-ranked New York prospect in the Class of 2015 play against the second-ranked one in the Class of 2016 had created a genuine buzz for the game, and Anderson and Whitley were aware of the hype surrounding their matchup.
“I heard a lot of people talking about it,” Whitley said.
Pretending the matchup meant nothing extra, Anderson said, was a way of surviving the day.
“That’s the way I had to think about it,” he said.
Shenendehowa scored all of its runs in a second inning in which it sent 15 batters to the plate, but the game’s lopsided score did little to diminish the attention paid to each of Whitley’s plate appearances against Anderson. None of the duo’s one-on-one matchups went overly long — Whitley saw five total pitches from Anderson, registering an 0-for-2 day with a hit by pitch — but each player got the chance Friday to show his stuff.
On the mound, Anderson — a commit to Vanderbilt University — struck out eight batters in six innings, allowing only two hits and an unearned run in a winning outing in which his fastball topped out at 90 mph.
Meanwhile, Whitley — signed to Wake Forest University, and projected to be picked in the first two rounds of June’s Major League Baseball draft — smacked a pitch in his first at-bat, and later made a running catch that drew cheers from the crowd.
“The wind pushed it a little bit, but I knew I had it the whole time,” Whitley said of the grab that ended with him running into the outfield fence.
The scouts that showed up for the game were armed with radar guns and stopwatches, and they were sprinkled in amongst a crowd that filled both grandstands behind the plate and lined the field’s surrounding fence.
Anderson and Whitley played against one another once last year — Whitley went 1-for-3 with a strikeout, while Anderson tossed a complete-game shutout with seven strikeouts — but that was before each had become a national-level prospect. In the run-up to Friday’s game, Prep Baseball Report’s Bobby Krogh — the service’s lead scout in the Capital Region — had summed up the reason for all the interest in the matchup between hitter and pitcher.
“I can’t remember — and I follow high school baseball in the area very closely — but I can’t remember there ever being this much hype around two players in the past 10 years,” Krogh said.
Whitley only made it on base against Anderson in his second plate appearance, which came in the third inning. In that frame, Anderson hit Whitley on the arm with an 0-2 offering.
The other two matchups between the two each went one pitch. Whitley flied out to center field in his final at-bat, and he led off the game with a hard ground ball. Shenendehowa third baseman Frankie Pizzo cleanly fielded Whitley’s first connection and threw the speedy Silver Warrior out.
The result from that first matchup left Whitley wistful and Anderson relieved.
“I just got on top of that one,” said Whitley, who said he had gotten the fastball he had wanted.
“It was kind of a relief,” Anderson said of the play. “[Pizzo] made a great play on it.”
Soon after that out, Shenendehowa broke the game open with its nine-run second inning. Designated hitter Matt Alverson’s RBI double was the Plainsmen’s only extra-base hit in an inning in which it had eight hits. Alverson said the game’s surrounding atmosphere had given the contest a “playoff feel,” and that the big inning helped to relieve some of the star-studded game’s tension.
“I’m glad we could do that for Ian,” Alverson said.
For Shenendehowa (8-0, 8-1), right fielder Richard Drum went 3-for-3 with an RBI in the win, Pizzo was 2-for-3, and first baseman Joe Fraser was 1-for-3 with two RBIs. No player for Niskayuna (3-4, 3-6) had more than one hit, and the Silver Warriors’ lone run was unearned against Anderson.
After the game, Anderson said what impressed him most about Whitley was not his physical gifts, but his ability to handle the circus around him. With an average of 15 to 25 scouts at each of his games this season, Whitley has become accustomed to attention from crowds — but not post-game media scrums.
“To be honest, this is the weirdest part,” Whitley said to a pack of reporters.