By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The struggles at the plate were getting to Mike Pettigrew.
After all, the Queen of Peace junior shortstop did all the right things in the offseason to prepare for this season, after struggling somewhat as a sophomore.
But Pettigrew wasn’t seeing any results of his hard work.
“I wasn’t hitting the ball well at all,” Pettigrew said. “I definitely did a lot of offseason work, lifting weights and working out. I knew I had to improve over last year. I had to make an adjustment.”
Queen of Peace head coach Steve Mancinelli had faith in Pettigrew.
“I knew he had the ability,” Mancinelli said. “He worked hard on his own. He played the outfield last year. I thought moving him back to shortstop, his natural position, would help him. I expected him to step in and be the starting shortstop. I knew he could field. I was a little skeptical about his hitting.”
Then, almost magically, something clicked inside of Pettigrew.
“He really started to crush the ball,” Mancinelli said.
“Once he got his timing down, he really started killing the ball.”
“I changed a lot of things at the plate,” Pettigrew said. “I think I started to see the ball well lately. The beginning of the season, I was sloppy. But not recently.”
Over the past week, Pettigrew has been downright mashing the baseball.
In the past week alone, in Golden Griffin wins against St. Benedict’s Prep, Leonia and Saddle Brook, Pettigrew has been almost unconscious with the bat.
Pettigrew had 11 hits in those wins, including four doubles, two triples, one homer and nine RBI.
For his efforts, Pettigrew has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“He really brings a lot of speed and power to the bottom half of our batting order,”
Mancinelli said. “We had him batting fifth at the start of the year, then dropped him to seventh and now he’s back up to sixth. He’s also taken control of the infield. Now that he’s the shortstop, he’s stepped into the lead role, talking and communicating with his teammates. It’s great.”
Pettigrew doesn’t know what triggered the hot streak, but he’s certainly not complaining.
“I’m pretty surprised,” Pettigrew said. “I just feel locked in right now. I feel like I’m going to hit the ball hard every time out. Based on what I was doing at the beginning of the season, I’d have to say I’m surprised.”
Pettigrew’s explosion has enabled him to get his season average back over the .400 mark to .409.
Pettigrew was asked if moving back to shortstop had anything to do with his recent surge.
“It might have,” Pettigrew said. “I feel comfortable at shortstop. It’s the position I
always played my whole life. But wherever the team needed me most, that’s where I was playing. I’ll do whatever is best for the team.”
Pettigrew said that he’s not planning to complain about anything these days.
“Whatever is going on right now, I’m not going to argue with it,” Pettigrew said. “As for now, I just want the team to win and I’ll do whatever it takes for us to win.”
Pettigrew is the same way as a starting basketball player. He was the one who hit the game-winning shot for the Golden Griffins at the buzzer to give QP a gigantic upset win over St. Joseph of Montvale in the semifinals of the Bergen County Jamboree last month.
“When it first happened, people told me that they saw it on the Internet,” Pettigrew said. “It was one of the craziest moments of my life. I just had to put it up and the shot went in. It was nuts. When I think about making that shot, it was just insane. I guess people just like seeing buzzer beaters.”
“I’m a proponent for athletes to play as many sports as possible,” Mancinelli said. “We try to help out the other varsity teams. Mike is one who helps everyone, including the opponent. He plays off the competitiveness of the other sports. I think it really helps him.”
Pettigrew isn’t sure about what sport he likes more.
“I can’t say which one is better,” Pettigrew said. “I know I’m improving in baseball a lot. I know I just want to win and help our team make the state playoffs. That’s my No. 1 priority right now.”
Mancinelli believes that Pettigrew’s torrid week is just a start.
“I really hope that he does,” Mancinelli said. “I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t continue. He’s just seeing the ball well and hitting it hard. He’s just a fun loving kid, who is bit of an instigator at times. But he’s a smart kid with a high baseball IQ. Mike has just managed to come on huge for us. He’s putting the barrel of the bat on the ball and hitting it hard. You can’t ask for more than that.”
“I just definitely hope things continue to go well,” Pettigrew said. “I’m comfortable now. We’re winning (the Golden Gophers moved to 5-4 with the 13-12 win over Saddle Brook last Saturday) and I just want to win for my team. That’s the No. 1 priority right now.”
The win streak now stands at 3, with the victory over Saddle Brook.
“The whole team has been hitting,” Pettigrew said. “It’s almost contagious.”
As for the shortstop who has seen his batting average improve by nearly 200 points, Pettigrew will take that kind of sickness any day of the week.