BY JOHN THEALL Sports writer
VERONA — It was a day that Vernon-Verona-Sherrill senior pitcher Jesse Whitmeyer said he will never forget.
It was a Saturday morning in late April at Oliver Park at VVS High School, and the Red Devils were scheduled to play a doubleheader against Marcellus and South Jefferson.
The rocket-armed left-hander was given the ball in game one and charged to the mound with his squad wearing their traditional red and white uniforms, taking the field to back him up like they have done so many times before during his three years as the Red Devils’ starting pitcher.
Whitmeyer would not need much help from his defense on this day, however. For the most part he took matters into his own hands and delivered the eighth no-hitter in school history. He struck out 18 batters, including the first 10 he faced, and retired 21 of the 25 batters he saw, issuing four walks.
"That was awesome," Whitmeyer recalls. "I would just get ahead (in the count) with the fastball, and then put them away with my curveball. I would get ahead, and then just put the ball by those kids. I didn’t really have an idea that I could do it in that game, because I’ve had a few games this year where I strike out the batters through the first four innings, so I just get used to it," he said.
He said he didn’t notice that he had a no-hitter going until the final inning.
"As the game went on, they only hit one ball square. There was a routine groundball, and then a line drive to the second baseman in the final inning. That was it, and as soon as that play happened I was like, ‘Wow, I’m getting close.’ Then I struck out the last kid, and it felt amazing," he said.
"It was unbelievable really. I’ve always had close games where I’d get one or two hits against me, but that game really felt great to finally be able to do it," he added.
VVS coach Chad Hodkinson recounted that it was the best that he had ever seen Whitmeyer throw. Both he and his catcher, Collin Laguzza, had an inkling something special was happening on the mound.
"He started throwing his curveball in the third inning, and Collin and I talked about it, and we both looked at each other and said, ‘That was dirty.’ It had some sharp depth to it, and when he started throwing that, it was over. That was the best curveball that I’ve ever seen him have," he said.
"His best pitch has always been his fastball, but it’s come to a point now where he has developed a curveball that is pretty filthy, and his curve now might be his best pitch. He never had that pitch before. People were just sitting dead-red waiting for a fastball, and now that’s not the case. He had a curveball last year, but it wasn’t a varsity curveball. Now, I’d say he’s gone past a varsity curveball. He’s got a nasty curveball. It’s late and it has so much depth to it, and when he’s throwing that he’s almost unhittable," he added.
Whitmeyer had gotten sniffs of a no-hitter a couple times earlier in the season.
On opening day, he had struck out 12 batters and left in the fourth inning with no hits allowed against Canastota because of a high pitch count. Two weeks later, he allowed one hit with 18 strikeouts against New Hartford, only to follow that effort up with the worst start of his high school career in a 13-1 loss to Whitesboro. He then bounced back with his gem against Marcellus.
Since his no-hitter, the veteran has been used in relief against Oneida and New Hartford, while the Red Devils prepared to set up their rotation for the postseason in the Section III Class B-1 playoffs. VVS, playing as an independent, took a 13-5 record into today’s postseason opener in a quarterfinal game at South Jefferson.
Opposing batters are hitting a miniscule .050 against Whitmeyer this season. During his sophomore year, he limited his opponents to a .143 batting average, and last year he held hitters to a .152 average.
That first year with VVS, he went 4-2 on the mound with a 2.05 ERA and struck out 75 hitters in 44 1/3 innings, and he followed that up last year making the Tri-Valley League all-star team after going 3-1 on the mound with one save and a 2.41 ERA. He fanned 60 batters in 32 innings for a 13.2 K’s per game average.
This year he has exceeded all those numbers.
In seven appearances on the mound, Whitmeyer sports a 3-2 record with one save and a 1.40 ERA, even with the rocky outing against Whitesboro. He has allowed only five earned runs in 25 innings pitched and has 61 strikeouts to his credit.
Whitmeyer is the school’s all-time strikeout leader with 196, shattering the old record of 173.
Hodkinson said that Whitmeyer always had the talent to be successful. When he worked on his mechanics and cut down on his walks allowed, he became a dominant force on the mound.
"When he took the ball as a sophomore, he had the physical stuff, but you didn’t know if he was as full of confidence as he is now," said Hodkinson. "He always wants the ball now, and he’s not afraid to be put into any spots. He just wants to pitch, and he’s been pretty dominant. You can see the confidence. Before you would give him the ball, and now he takes it from you. And when he goes out there, he expects to win games.
"He’s not afraid to have the ball," the coach continued. "He wants to be in those situations where the game is on the line and the pressure is on. Kids like playing behind him. They don’t get to see too much action, but they like playing behind him. He’s definitely limited his walks this year, and he’s really finding the strike zone a lot better."
Whitmeyer credits hard work and his familiarity with his catcher, Laguzza, for his success out on the mound.
"I did a lot of mechanics work, and really worked hard at trying to hit my spots. I had no mechanics work over the summer in Legion baseball, so Coach had me start working on a ton of mechanics," Whitmeyer said. "So far, so good."
The son of Tonya Dunning and Paul Whitmeyer, he has signed a national letter of intent to attend the University at Buffalo and play Division I baseball.
Whitmeyer is part of a deep pitching rotation that Hodkinson hopes will lead to a successful run in the postseason. Senior Josh Webb is 5-0, while junior Marc Iseneker and the senior Laguzza each have a pair of wins and junior Adam Ross has one. "We have a lot of depth that a lot of teams might not have, and we have dominant starters that can come in whenever and get the job done," said Hodkinson.
But Whitmeyer has emerged as the leader of the group.
"We’ve got a good group of five seniors on this team, but Jesse knows what is expected of him, and he certainly leads by example for us," said Hodkinson.
"Ever since he came up to the varsity level three years ago he has had the swing-and-miss stuff, and it’s nice to know that you have a leader like him on the mound that when we need it, he can go out there and get it himself if he needs to," added Hodkinson.