By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Corey Sawyer transferred from St. Joseph of Montvale to Kearny High School last fall, he didn’t know what to expect, except that he wanted to play baseball for the Kardinals.
“I knew a lot of people on the team, so I was really excited to play,” Sawyer said. Kearny head baseball coach Frank Bifulco knew that Sawyer had potential, especially as a pitcher.
“The first time I saw him throw, I noticed he had natural left-handed movement,” Bifulco said. “I thought he could really help us.”
Sawyer was placed in right field for the first Kardinal scrimmage. Things didn’t exactly go well.
“The first scrimmage, he dropped three fly balls in the outfield,” Bifulco said. “I pulled him out of the game and talked to him. I told him he had to relax. I knew he had this quiet confidence, but he wore his emotions on his sleeve.”
During the preseason, Bifulco told the sophomore that he was going to be part of the Kardinals’ pitching rotation, especially after an impressive three-inning scoreless stint in a scrimmage against Nutley.
“I was happy to be one of the starting pitchers,” Sawyer said. “I was really proud to be selected. I did well in that game against Nutley. That gave me a feel for what it would be like in an actual game.”
However, no one could have ever imagined what Sawyer would do in his very first start with the Kardinals last week against perennial power Memorial of West New York.
Before the start, assistant coach Dave Smart spent a lot of time with Sawyer, working on his curveball.
“We knew we had to work on his curve, because his ball moves,” Bifulco said. “Dave did a great job with Corey before the start. They worked on getting the curve over.”
“I worked on bringing my arm back,” Sawyer said. “Everything was coming out too short, so I worked on getting that curve over. I wasn’t so confident with it. But it was good the day of the game.” During warm-ups, Sawyer felt strong about his pitches.
“Before the game, I was nervous,” Sawyer said. “But it was good in warm-ups, so I wanted to take it into the game.”
Sure enough, Sawyer was on from the start. Like dead on.
“One batter turned to three and then there was an inning,” Bifulco said. “He was throwing real well.”
“By the fourth inning, I felt really good,” Sawyer said. Sawyer was mowing down the Tigers, batter after batter. After four innings, then five, he had not allowed a single hit. Did Sawyer realize he was working on a precious no-hitter?
“Yeah, I did, but I didn’t want to say anything,” Sawyer said.
Baseball folklore says that if anyone dares to talk about a nohitter, before it actually takes place, that it’s bad luck.
However, it’s not too bad when the head coach doesn’t realize something magical is taking place.
“I only realized it after it was over,” Bifulco said. “I was sitting in the dugout when it hit me that he didn’t let up a hit. I had to look at the scorebook. I then told Mr. (Doug) Gogal (another Kearny assistant coach) that Corey had a no-hitter.”
With the Kardinals holding a slim 2-0 lead, Sawyer got into his only difficulty in the seventh inning.
“I walked the first guy, then the second batter reached on an error,” Sawyer said. “I had to bear down a little.”
Sawyer struck out the next batter, then induced the final batter to ground into a double play.
“I grabbed Mr. Gogal and said, `There it is, he just threw a no-hitter.’”
Sure enough, in his very first varsity start, Sawyer pitched a no-hitter, striking out seven and walking just two in the 2-0 Kearny victory.
“I had to tell everyone, because I knew Corey wouldn’t,” Bifulco said. “He just went out and pitched a great game. The players behind him played well and Corey would turn around and show his support. Everyone just went out there to get him.”
For his efforts, Sawyer has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week, the first such honoree in the spring scholastic sports season.
Sawyer knew that he created some history.
“Everyone who has ever been a pitcher, from Little League to the major leagues all dream about pitching a no-hitter,” Sawyer said. “I was just trying to focus on one batter and getting him out, then going to the next. I knew Memorial is a very good team, so I had to work hard.”
Imagine that. In his first-ever varsity start, Sawyer pitched the pinnacle.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised, because I knew he had talent,” Bifulco said. “But it is a surprising thing in the fact it was his first start. We knew the kid could throw. This just shows his promise and what he can do. He’s going to be a big part of what we do. He really has this quiet confidence about him. He just came out and showed that confidence.”
So what does Sawyer do for an encore? Everyone will have to see Wednesday, when he faces another perennial power in North Bergen.
“It feels pretty good right now,” Sawyer said. “I know everyone will be watching me now.”
All eyes on the No-Hit Kid.