CUMBERLAND — Now that he's decided where he will attend college, Cumberland High senior pitcher Justin Patrick – a 6-5, 205-pound righty – just wants to focus on the next task at hand: Helping the Clippers to an outstanding Division I-North campaign and securing a playoff berth later this spring.
“I personally think we can get to states this year,” Patrick stated Thursday afternoon as he relaxed inside the school's Wellness Center. “The last couple of years, we played OK as a team, but I don't feel we reached our potential.
“Last year, we needed to win one of our final six (regular-season) games to make the playoffs, but we just couldn't do it,” he added. “I don't have any explanation for it. I just think we weren't as mentally into it as we should have been, and it's a shame. We ended up finishing 7-11 in D-I North, and we should have been so much better.
“My sophomore year, we were one game away from going to the Final Four. We were up, one game to none, against North Providence, but ended up losing the next two in the D-I regional finals. We were really a good team, but we let it get away.”
Patrick doesn't believe that will happen again, and he has reason: His confidence is soaring after he recently signed a letter-of-intent to attend the University of South Florida (located in Tampa) on what he called an “overall baseball scholarship.”
He wouldn't say how much it would help him and his family pay the approximate $27,000 per year bill, but mentioned he's thrilled with the idea of pitching in the NCAA Division I ranks.
“I thought the school was a great fit for me,” Patrick noted. “I liked the coaches; they were all laid-back and really personable. Lelo Prado is the manager, and I also met (assistant coaches) Chris Heintz and Chuck Hernandez.”
Patrick claimed to being floored when Prado and Co. watched him pitch for the Legends Baseball team, a 16-and-under travel squad out of Middleton, Mass., at a tournament in New Jersey last July.
“It was a showcase tournament, and it attracted a lot of scouts,” he offered. “They called me and said they liked what they saw, and wanted to come watch me again. They asked me to give them our schedule, so I said, 'Sure!'
“They came to see me at another tournament in East Cobb, Ga., and I remember pitching into the sixth inning,” he continued. “I gave up one earned run, like four hits with three walks and nine strikeouts. According to NCAA rules, they can't meet with me in person, but they did call again and told me they liked what they saw. They also said they wanted to offer me a partial scholarship.
“It was kind of surreal to me. USF was the first big-name school to contact me and say, 'We like what you have.' My parents (Mike and Donna) were all for it. They never really had any feeling as to restricting me, that they'd like me to stay around here. They didn't mind if I traveled to college.”
Mike Patrick went to Michigan State University in East Lansing, while “mom” Donna attended Springfield College.
“(Prado and his staff) didn't really put any pressure on me, like, 'You've got to come here,'” he stated. “They showed me what they had to offer, and I liked it. When they first said that they were in the Big East Conference, that was a huge selling point.
“I was also impressed when they said their pitching coach had been with the (Detroit) Tigers, the (Los Angeles) Angels (of Anaheim) and the (Tampa Bay) Rays. I liked the fact I'd be spending most of my time with somebody so knowledgeable.”
Patrick, who carries a 3.0 GPA, still is unsure about a major, though is pondering business.
He indicated that, previously, he had received letters of interest from the Universities of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts-Amherst and Virginia, not to mention Holy Cross, Sacred Heart, Franklin Pierce and Stetson (also in Florida), though none seemed as hell-bent on landing him as USF.
“I always wanted to play for a big school, like the ones I saw on TV at the College World Series,” he said. “Teammates had told me at that first tournament in New Jersey that USF was there looking at us, then I found out they were looking at me. I was, like, 'Wow!' The second I heard the word 'Florida' in the name, I was pumped up.
“I went on an official visit in early September, and I immediately noticed all the palm trees, sunshine and a lot of modern buildings,” he added with a smile. “They were doing reconstruction to their athletic facilities, and they just finished a new 20,000-seat baseball stadium, which is part of the baseball/softball complex.
“When I saw the stadium, I was thinking, 'I'm going to pitch here? It's awesome!' My fellow recruits and I went to see a varsity practice, and it blew my mind. We could see how huge the stadium was, and how talented the players were. We saw what it would be like to play there.”
As a CHS junior, the pitcher/first baseman compiled a 5-2 record and a 1.59 ERA on the hill. When asked what his batting average was, he just laughed, “Not so hot.”
Clippers' head coach Paul Murphy revealed he didn't know his star right-hander had signed with USF until Mike Patrick had e-mailed him.
“I thought it was great, and now you can see why,” Murphy said. “He's 6-5, and he's got the body to get bigger and stronger. If he puts some muscle on his legs and core, who knows how good he can get? Potentially, the sky's the limit.
“Just because of its velocity, his fastball is his best pitch, but he's really, really good when he has command of all three of his pitches – fastball, curve and change-up,” he continued. “He not only has an above-average fastball, which has been clocked in the upper 80s (mph), but also an above-average curve and change.
“Last year, he made second-team All-Division I-North, but he absolutely can make All-State. I believe, right now, he's capable of being the best high school pitcher in Rhode Island. You know, some kids bring a ton of velocity, but they may be wild, as they have a tendency to overthrow. They also don't have solid command of their other pitches. Justin does.
“Let's put it this way: If a kid throws only one pitch for a strike, no matter how hard he throws, he'll get hit. Justin has three pitches at his disposal, and he can keep hitters off-balance.
“In one game last year against North Kingstown, which made it to the finals, he won, 1-0. The coach, Kevin Gormley, came up to me and said, 'Paul, we didn't have a chance. He kept us so off-balance.' He also said Justin was the best pitcher his club had faced all year.”
Patrick claimed he also throws a two-seam fastball, so has four pitches he can rely upon to stymie opposing high-school hitters.
“I'd love to make All-State first-team, and – hopefully – we can go undefeated,” he noted. “I just want to keep my walks down and be consistent. I really like my fastball; I've already been clocked at 90 (mph), but – like Coach Murphy keeps telling me – I need to throw my other pitches for strikes.
“I've thought about (being a USF Bull come September) a lot, and I'm past the point of being, like, 'Wow! I'm going to be a D-I college pitcher. Now I'm just thinking about what I need to do to prepare for this upcoming season.”