Engineering Perfection

NJIT's Saporito hopes to build off summer perfect game


Nov. 8, 2007

By Douglas Kroll

CSTV.com

 



DOUG KROLL

Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball.
E-mail here!

When NJIT head coach Brian Callahan made the announcement to his team that his Highlanders would be moving from Division II to Division I, he would always use the same running joke.

 

"Now that we're D-I, we're going to head down to play Miami," Callahan used to say to his club.

 

After one season as a Division I Independent, the Highlanders are indeed heading down to Coral Gables to take on the Hurricanes, even if it took some time for his team to actually believe him.

 

"Coach used to joke with us about going down to play Miami, but now it's really going to happen," pitcher P.J. Saporito said. "To have an opportunity to play against a team like that is going to be amazing."

 

The one game will take place during NJIT's spring break trip to Florida in March, and the likely candidate to take the hill will be staff ace Saporito.

 

His coach calls him a Greg Maddux-type pitcher, and while that may be higher praise than he'll admit to, Saporito did something that the 41-year old righty has never done (at least at the big-league level): toss a perfect game.

 

Playing in the NYBCL summer league, Saporito made history by throwing the first perfect game in the league's 30-year history. It's something that will certainly be cherished by not only Saporito but his head coach.

 

"There's no question that was awesome," Saporito said of his feat. "Everything was just clicking perfectly. My fastball was hitting every spot and I just felt real good out there."

"It was a great day," Callahan said. "I had so many people calling me after that, telling me about what had happened up there. It's something that I'll remember for a very long time."

 

Saporito's line read like a pitcher's dream for the Brockport Riverbats that night: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K, 9 ground outs, 13 fly outs.

 

Consider that the Riverbats needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and it really becomes a masterpiece.

 

The 2007 season was still a year of transition for the Highlanders. The team finished with a 7.40 ERA, with Saporito leading the way among the starters with a 5.95 ERA, a team-high six wins and one of only two pitchers that finished with a winning record. Considering the team finished 15-28, that's not terrible.

 

But now it's up to the junior to improve upon those numbers, especially after showing what he's capable of doing this summer and after a stellar final performance in his sophomore season, beating a tough South Dakota State team in the Independent Tournament.

 

"P.J. will definitely be better this season," Callahan said. "He'll be counted on as our stopper at the front of the rotation and he's going to be just fine."

 

Asked to take the ball to stop a losing streak or take on the highest-powered offense on the team's schedule is not an easy task, but Saporito is ready for it.

 

"I'm definitely ready for it," Saporito said of his ace status. "It's going to be my job to go out there and stop a losing streak if there happens to be one and face some of the toughest lineups that there are."

 

Being an independent will certainly give the 6-foot-1 lefty a chance to play a wide variety of teams. Not only will the Highlanders take on Miami for a game, they will also travel to Rutgers to take on a new in-state rival.

 

"It's going to be great to get to play a team like Miami," Callahan said. "It's something that we certainly only dreamed about a few years ago, but now that's going to happen. Also, playing Rutgers will be great as well. Playing as an independent, we really get to pick and choose whoever we want to play, which is something that we can use as an advantage. The only time it hurts us is when the NCAA Tournament comes around, because we'll have to win a whole lot of games to get looked at."

 

NJIT also had the benefit of playing at one of the finest facilities in the Northeast. The Highlanders call Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium home, a state-of-the-art $30 million facility that opened in 1999 and is home to the professional independent league Newark Bears.

 

Not too many college teams can say they have a stadium with 20 luxury boxes, gorgeous locker rooms and a seating capacity of 6,200, but that's what Callahan and his team gets to do on a daily basis.

 

It also brings teams to Newark to play.

 

"The facility we have gets teams to come in and play us, no question," Callahan said. "We're very lucky in that aspect, and we certainly use it to our advantage."

 

Saporito enters the 2008 season with no more pressure than he would have if he didn't make a splash and toss a perfect game on July 26. Take into account the significance of that game for his summer team, and toeing the rubber at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables should be a cakewalk.

 

That is, of course, if the players actually believe they are going.

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