Asked if he sometimes amazes himself, Tim Sharpley could not tell a lie.
“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “Sometimes I do. I wonder how I got myself into this.”
It’s not a bad place to be in.
Sharpley did not become a full time pitcher until entering his junior year at Hamilton West. Since then, his combined overall record between high school and Broad Street Park stood at 19-1 entering this year’s New Jersey American Legion State Elite 8 Tournament.
Rest assured Sharpley remembers the “1”.
“I lost to Lawrence last year in legion, and that was the game that caused us to not win the league title,” Sharpley said. “So, that sticks out.”
He had no such woes during the regular season this summer, going 6-0 with a league-leading 0.60 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 35 innings. He threw three shutouts, walked just six batters and was named the MCALL Pitcher of the Year.
“He’s been good,” manager Mike Petrowski said. “He’s probably middle of the pack velocity-wise but he hits his spots. He struggles sometimes but keeps us in the games with not great stuff. He’s tough. One thing you can say, if you don’t have great stuff you gotta be tough to be 6-0. He didn’t have the best stuff I’ve seen but give credit to him. In big situations, he made big pitches.”
Sharpley gives credit to all involved.
“It’s been great,” he said. “Obviously, the guys behind are making the plays, coming back in the dugout getting runs, giving me support. (Connor) Luckie behind the plate has been a brick wall. Any time I spike a ball (in the dirt) he’s right there for me.”
Sharpley grew up in the Hamilton Little Lads and Hamilton Babe Ruth leagues, but pitched sparingly. His dad served as his little league coach and showed him the nuances, and he “pitched here and there” with Babe Ruth. When he got to Hamilton, he played JV shortstop his freshman and sophomore year because he preferred “hitting, playing the field and being in on every pitch.”
But heading into his junior year, Sharpley knew he would be unable to unseat the Hornets starting shortstop and changed his strategy.
“I saw he was still there, so I made my decision to walk over where the pitchers try out,” he said. “I wanted to throw. It was my way to get on varsity. I saw somebody in front of me at shortstop so I had to do it my own way.”
And the pressure didn’t seem to bother him.
“I thought I had my stuff,” he said. “I always felt comfortable throwing in big situations. I like the big-game feel so I wasn’t nervous.”
‘It’s just that energy. I just like to compete. When I get runners on, it’s just my competitiveness there too.’
Playing under Mark Pienciak, Sharpley came out of the bullpen and went 4-0.
It got even better last summer.
“I walked out here, tried out, the next thing you know I was number two in the rotation for legion, and I never started before,” he said.
Sharpley went 5-1, and a pitching career was born. New Hornet coach Mike Moceri put Sharpley in his starting rotation and he went 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 36 innings. That was followed by his award-wining legion season.
Petrowski feels Sharpley’s biggest attribute is a competitive nature that makes up for lack of a blistering fastball.
“He’s definitely up a little bit in velocity this year, but his biggest thing is he’s a competitor,” the manager said. “He wears his emotions on his sleeve and I think that helps you a lot on the mound. You gotta get mad at yourself sometimes, it heightens your focus. I believe guys sometimes are timid, sometimes they back off. Somebody said during a major league game that you have to have a chip on your shoulder. If a guy is trying to hit you hard; you have to have a chip on your shoulder and want to stop him.”
Sharpley agrees that something inside of him clicks when a tough situation arises. He recalled a game where “I wasn’t hitting my spots and didn’t have my stuff,” and he allowed three runs. In the next inning, Kyle Harrington homered to give Broad Street back the lead, and he went from Tim-id back to Tim.
“I went out and struck out the side,” he said. “It’s just that energy. I just like to compete. When I get runners on, it’s just my competitiveness there too. I bear down, make sure the runner is there, look at Luckie and go back to the batter.”
Sharpley has changed his approach since his Babe Ruth days. On the occasions he did pitch, he relied heavily on his change-up and mixed in his curveball and fastball. In high school, he goes more with the fastball and curve to set up the change.
“He’s got a fastball, curveball and change-up he can locate at any time when he’s on,” Petrowski said. “When you can locate three pitches in high school you’re gonna be good, I don’t care how hard you throw. I’ve had guys throw slower than him and have undefeated records.”
Sharpley said the key, of course, is getting a jump on the hitter.
“You get ahead, and then execute with two strikes and hit your spot,” he said. “You don’t need to be afraid there.”
The hurler also has a knack for filing away useful information, and gives credit to those who help make him look good.
“I always had a good memory,” said Sharpley, who is enrolled at the Mercer County Fire Academy. “I remember a batter before, I could pick out what he did, if he hurt me before. Or if I got to him, I’ll know how to get to him again. And a lot of it is because of my coach’s pitch calling. And Luckie sets me up well, we’ve played two years together, so I trust him.”
And with that, Sharpley answered his own question. Sounds like he knows exactly how he got into all of this.