By DAVE O'SULLIVAN
The Egg Harbor Township baseball team fell one win short of a sectional championship game appearance the past two years, and the Eagles are determined to win a South Jersey championship within the next two years. They may just have the talent to do so.
Within the past few weeks, a pair of players who just finished up their sophomore seasons this spring gave verbal commitments to some pretty good college baseball teams. Robbie Petracci, a left-handed hitting right fielder, announced in late July his decision to attend Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and teammate Jordan Sweeney — an outfielder and pitcher who earned first-team all-state honors this spring, announced this weekend that he chose Rutgers University.
"I'm very excited to play there, and the recent move to the Big Ten is something I'm really excited about," said Sweeney, who was among the state's leaders in home runs and RBIs this spring.
"He's really excited about it. He had a great year. After Sweeney's season, I knew he was going to be able to pick from a lot of schools. I struggled a little bit during the high school season, but had a good summer season and got a lot of looks. I ended up getting a few offers, and me and him had some of the same offers — kind of like a package deal, which was really cool. But I decided to go with Old Dominion after seeing the school," Petracci said. "They gave me a really good offer. I went to the school, met the coaches, saw everything they had to offer, and I just really liked the coaching staff and the baseball aspect — just everything about it. It's right on the water, and I really liked it."
Old Dominion plays in Conference USA and went 37-21 this spring, including 19-11 in conference play, and finished second behind Southern Mississippi. Rutgers went 19-34 and finished 12th in the Big Ten out of 13 teams, registering a 7-16 record in coach Joe Litterio's fourth season after taking over for the legendary Fred Hill. The coaching staff also features Egg Harbor City native and former Holy Spirit standout Tim Reilly.
For both Petracci and Sweeney, the recruiting process started early, during their freshman years, as has been the trend in recent years for most college sports. Both said they began getting looked at while playing summer baseball for high level programs such as Baseball U. (Petracci) and Tri-State Arsenal (Sweeney). Petracci and Sweeney both are class of 2019 recruits, and Petracci said class of 2021 players are already being recruited by top schools.
"I was talking to schools last summer a little bit. I had a good summer season. During the high school season (this year) I kind of struggled a little bit and it fell off, but I had a bunch of tournaments where I was really swinging the bat pretty well. I was talking to a bunch of schools, but I really didn't expect offers to come in as soon as they did, so I was surprised. I had a few schools offering, and they were all good schools and good offers that I was lucky to have. But they can pull the offer at any time, and they give deadlines, so they want to know by a certain time, so I didn't have that much time to decide. I knew it was early, but I felt like that was where I fit in," Petracci said. "For me, pretty much all of it was from summer ball. For Sweeney, a lot of it came from the high school season because, obviously, he had an insane season."
"I started looking at schools, and school started looking at me, during my freshman year. I started talking to schools such as St. John's, Delaware and Rutgers about a year ago, and as the recruiting process went on, schools came and went, but Rutgers was always toward the top for me," Sweeney said. "I had already visited a lot of schools, and Rutgers felt right. I felt at home on the campus and I met the new coaching staff and really liked them a lot, so it really felt like it was a good decision. I felt ready to make my decision."
Sweeney (6-4, 195 pounds) had a good freshman season, notching 24 hits, including three home runs, to go along with 16 runs scored and 12 RBIs. But he really burst onto the scene as a sophomore this spring, racking up 35 hits, nine home runs, 10 doubles, 29 runs scored and 46 RBIs — all in just 75 at-bats. He already has 59 hits, 58 RBIs and 45 runs scored just halfway through his varsity career. Petracci (5-10, 155) had 16 hits, 16 RBIs and 14 runs scored as a sophomore, and both he (No. 16) and Sweeney (No. 5) are ranked in the top 40 sophomores by nj.com.
"This just shows how much talent comes out of here. There are players in the upcoming sophomore class who I think will be doing the same thing not too far from now. There's just so much talent coming up throughout EHT baseball and the recreation programs," Petracci said.
"I wasn't surprised at the season I had, because I worked really hard during the offseason to do what I did. But it was definitely cool to be able to perform to the level that I did," Sweeney said. "In the middle of the season there were schools that started contacting me who I hadn't heard from before, some of the bigger schools, but I was talking to Rutgers since before this year. When I'm on the field, I do a pretty good job of keeping (recruiting) out of my mind and just playing baseball. I don't let anything behind the fence worry me. Everything on the field is what I'm worried about when I'm playing, so it wasn't that much of a distraction."
Both players said now that their college choices are made, they can relax about that and get to work this fall on improving not only their skills, but their leadership qualities, as they will take over for graduated seniors such as Dante DiPalma, Nick Milhan, Drew Hickman and Connor Agostino, among others.
"Now that this is completely off our shoulders we don't have to worry about scouts (or college recruiters) in the stands anymore, now it's time to just go out and win a state championship," Petracci said.
Added Sweeney, "it is some weight off my shoulders. Now I can just go out there and focus on trying to help my team make a run at a state title. The last two years we lost in the (South Jersey Group 4) semifinals. Now, with me and Petracci already committed, we should be leaders on this team to hopefully get past that point next year."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays