FORT MYERS, Fla. – Nothing could knock Evoshield Canes southpaw Zach Attianese off his game Monday afternoon at the 16u Perfect Game World Series, not the three hour rain delay which pushed a scheduled morning game back to the middle of the afternoon, not the sweltering diamond baking in the powerful Florida sunshine, not even the dozens of radar guns that would pop up every time he came set to throw.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound lefty look as good as advertised, throwing an impressive five innings against Team Elite and giving up just two earned runs off of six hits, while collecting seven strikeouts without surrendering a single walk. He did all of this on just 74 pitches.
“I thought I had some pretty good stuff,” said Attianese. “My catcher, Brad [Debo], he called a really good game. I mean, it’s pretty easy when I have this defense behind me.”
The Old Bridge, New Jersey native was as efficient as one can be on the mound Monday afternoon. Of the 20 batters he faced, he was able to retire nine on three pitches or less. His command of the strike zone was a big reason why he was able to keep his pitch count to a manageable level. Attianese threw 66-percent of his pitches for strikes and tallied three 1-2-3 innings in his five-inning victory.
“My game plan is to get command of my fastball early, always get ahead in the count, throw strikes, and not fall behind,” Attianese said. “Once I get ahead, I can just play around and throw curveballs and changeups and mix it up a little bit.”
Attianese threw first-pitch strikes to a majority of the batters he faced, allowing him to execute his game plan exactly as he had planned. He was able to miss a lot of bats once he was ahead in the count.
“With two strikes, depending on how the at-bat goes, I’ll most likely go to my curveball as my out pitch,” said Attianese. “I missed a couple spots with my fastball, but it was working pretty much.”
It also helps a lot that Attianese, ranked No. 47 nationally in the 2016 high school class, has the nation’s 8th ranked catcher in the 2016 high school class to throw to in Brad Debo.
“It’s a lot easier to pitch when you’ve got a guy behind the plate who knows what he’s doing, plus, with this defense I know that it’s not just me,” Attianese said. “I know that I can put the ball in play and our shortstop made some great plays in the hole. I know that I just have to pitch and put it in play and I don’t have to strike out anyone.”
Debo feels the same way about catching Attianese, among many other talented pitchers on this Evoshield Canes roster.
“He did well,” said Debo. “It’s a lot easier knowing that they can command the zone and throw strikes. It makes it easier on me. When they can control the game, I can control the game.”
Typically wearing the uniform of Gallagher Team Mizuno, Attianese is in Fort Myers as a member of the Evoshield Canes, a well-known national travel ball powerhouse and one of just sixteen teams competing for the coveted Perfect Game World Series title.
“Everyone’s really good,” said Attianese. “They’re all really nice kids and our coaches are really good. We just work together and compete and play like a team.”
The Canes have one of, if not the best pitching staffs out of all the teams competing in the World Series, with Attianese being the highest ranked, following by LHP Rian Haire (No. 50), RHP Mason Studstill (No. 54), RHP Tyler Keysor (No. 62), and LHP Austin Langworthy (No. 95). They also brought some of the 2016 high school class’ best position players in shortstop Grant Bodison (No. 27), Debo (No. 55), and outfielder Jalen Harrison (No. 60).
“Our defense has come around very, very nicely,” Debo said. “Our bats are coming around now and it’s a lot better.”
The Canes were able to string together nine hits to plate six runs in their 6-3 win over Team Elite on Monday afternoon. The offense was paced by Burke, Va. Native Nick Neville, who went 3-for-4 at the plate and came around to score twice. Debo was the other Cane to tally a multi-hit ballgame, going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, improving to a .444 batting average (4-for-9) through three tournament games.
Debo, a member of the Evoshield Canes organization for three years now, has only attended a handful of Perfect Game events, but has grabbed enough attention to boost him high into the rankings.
“It’s pretty nice,” said Debo. “I’m not number one though, so I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’ll get there. I train four days a week. I lift and hit on my off days and some days when I’m still playing I’ll train.”
If you’re going to be catching some of the best pitchers in the 2016 high school class, you can expect to play in front of a ton of college recruiting coordinators and scouts. Debo has impressed enough to earn a verbal commitment to the University of South Carolina. He also makes the pitchers he catches look even better. Attianese, however, is no stranger to the sea of radar guns pointed in his direction.
“It’s a little nerve-wrecking, but you kind of get used to it after a while and you just kind of zone in,” Attianese said. “It’s just my catcher and me when I’m on the field. I try to zone everyone else out and just pitch like I know how to do.”
After a stellar high school campaign as a sophomore at Old Bridge High School, compiling a 5-2 record with a 0.61 earned run average (ERA) and 67 strikeouts in 45.2 innings of work, the southpaw was named Gatorade’s New Jersey Scholastic Baseball Player of the Year.
“I was sitting in my science class and I got a notification on my phone that said I won and I wasn’t expecting any of that so I was really happy,” said Attianese, who admitted, as a sophomore, he felt very fortunate just to be nominated for the honor. “I couldn’t have done it without my high school team, though. My catcher and my coach helped me with my pitching and my defense in high school was great, too.”
“My family’s been a big part of it too,” Attianese continued. “They’ve supported me through everything. My dad makes it everywhere. He’s always at all of my games and when my sister comes home from college she’ll be at all my games and my mom is there anytime she can. It’s good to know that no matter what happens, they’ll always have my back.”
As a rising junior with as much attention and as many accolades as he’s collected throughout his still blossoming career, you can let your imagination run wild as to what this young ballplayer’s ceiling could be. The University of North Carolina, where Attianese has verbally committed, is surely excited to see what they can get out of him when he puts on the Tar Heels blue just a few years down the road.
“I’ve liked watching Carolina sports my whole life, but once I visited there the coaches made me feel like I’m at home,” said Attianese. “That was probably the biggest thing. I would feel comfortable with them. I like the coaches a lot and the facilities were amazing. I just think I’d be a good fit for that school.”
In the meantime, however, Debo and Attianese just hope to help the ultra-talented Evoshield Canes win this year’s 2014 16u Perfect Game World Series, which concludes Wednesday afternoon with the championship game held in the stadium at jetBlue Park.