Baseball: McPherson takes game to whole new level
Opinions differ between Marmion pitcher Brandon McPherson, catcher Chase Stanke and coach Frank Chapman as to which of McPherson's 2018 outings was the most impressive.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior's entire season was magnificent taken as a whole, particularly considering Marmion played a top-notch nonconference schedule and competed in the Blue Division of the Chicago Catholic League.
The CCL Blue is widely considered the toughest high school baseball conference in Illinois, strewed with traditional state powers like Brother Rice, St. Rita, Mt. Carmel and Providence. Since 2009, those four schools alone have won four Class 4A state championships and finished runner-up five times.
McPherson excelled against all competition this season, which is why the 18-year-old son of Darryl and Nicole McPherson of North Aurora has been named honorary captain of the 2018 Daily Herald Fox Valley All-Area Baseball Team.
In 12 appearances (11 starts) the right-hander went 5-1 with a 1.54 earned-run average and 0.89 WHIP in 63⅔ innings. He struck out 104 batters and issued 17 walks.
What was his best game?
"I think it was the playoff game against Batavia," McPherson said of a 5-0 victory in a May 24 regional semifinal at St. Charles East. Marmion's ace threw a 79-pitch, 2-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts and no walks.
"That was my most fundamentally sound game because I had been drilling a lot with my coach and watching a lot of film," he said.
McPherson isn't talking about watching film of himself or the opponent. He is referencing film of a pitcher he models himself after -- late Kansas City reliever Yordano Ventura, who died in a car accident in January of 2017.
"My go-to game is Game 6 of the World Series between Kansas City and San Francisco," McPherson said. "He threw real hard. I like to watch how he did and try to implement it into my pitching style."
McPherson calls his style controlled aggression. He said he likes to pitch angry with a chip on his shoulder "because I feel like I've been slighted by stuff. Every time I go out there I have to prove that I'm decent, that I'm good. I go out there with that kind of attitude."
If one of the best pitchers in Illinois feels slighted, it is because he does not have a college home yet. The reason for that is football. McPherson was also Marmion's quarterback last fall. He was named all-area in that sport after completing 52.4 percent of his pass attempts for 1,711 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also rushed for 283 yards and 10 touchdowns.
College baseball coaches have not enjoyed many chances to see McPherson at summer combines because he had football obligations, like 7-on-7 passing league. Those obligations no longer exist since he made the decision earlier this school year to play baseball in college only. He had previously considered playing both sports.
"He decided late to just focus on baseball, but he'll end up in a place where he's supposed to be," Chapman said. "He's taking a couple of visits now to some four-year schools and some junior colleges. Wherever he goes, I'm anxious to see him at the next level because he's really going to flourish."
McPherson visited Northern Illinois on Monday and received a scholarship offer, he said. A visit to Triton College could happen soon. There may be others.
How high McPherson's ceiling goes is anyone's guess. After he stopped training for football last winter and began working full-time with Marmion pitching coach Tim Tartar, his fastball jumped from 89 mph to 93 mph. The fastball speed is enhanced by a devastating slider and a 12-to-6 curveball.
McPherson had all his pitches working in back-to-back shutouts of Brother Rice on April 12 and Providence on April 19. In 14 innings, he limited the Crusaders and Celtics to 6 hits and 3 walks and struck out 20.
The two-game sequence was McPherson at his best, according to Stanke, his teammate since they were 10-year olds playing for a Wasco travel team coached by their fathers and current Harvest Christian Academy coach and athletic director David Lockwood.
"Obviously, those are two very, very talented lineups so that was pretty special," said Stanke, signed to catch for the Minnesota Golden Gophers next year. "To be able to go back-to-back and win two games like that was amazing. It was pretty fun for everyone playing behind him because he was lights out."
In Chapman's opinion, McPherson's best game came during the team's spring break trip to Louisville. After touring the Louisville Slugger factory in the afternoon, the Cadets faced Columbus North, a ranked team from Indiana, on a cold night at the Super Preps Tournament.
"I remember it was freezing," said McPherson, who limited Columbus North to 3 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits and a walk and struck out 14 in 6 innings.
"He went head-to-head with a kid going to Indiana and we won 4-3," Chapman said. "Their lineup was stacked with Division I and future pro talent. The game started at 8 o'clock at night and Brandon threw so well. It was just impressive the way he went up and down that lineup. It was fun."
The fun ride for McPherson and the Cadets came to an abrupt end in a Bartlett sectional semifinal against eventual state qualifier Lake Park. McPherson was uncharacteristically hittable. The Lancers touched him for a pair of first-inning solo home runs and became the first team to tag the Marmion hurler for 3 or more earned runs since state qualifier Plainfield North scored 3 against him in the March 16 season opener.
Lake Park won 8-3 by getting to McPherson for season highs of 6 earned runs on 8 hits and 4 walks.
"His velo was down in his last two starts and workload had a lot to do with that," Chapman said. "He pretty much went the max pitch limit all season because you couldn't afford to pull him against teams like Brother Rice and Providence. I just think he got tired and that's OK."
"It was baseball," McPherson said after the loss. "Sometimes you do have it; sometimes you do not have it. You just have to go out there and grind."
Grinding has been part of McPherson's baseball persona since he played Wasco travel ball.
"He was a gamer. Always was," Lockwood said. "He was the type of kid that wanted the ball at crunchtime. He was the type of kid who in the biggest moments would come up with the biggest plays. He never wavered."
Where McPherson's next big baseball moment takes place is still up in the air. Whichever school lands a Brandon McPherson now fully committed to baseball gains a game-changing entity, according to his catcher.
"Brandon has always been very talented and always played at a very high level, but being able to focus on baseball only this spring took it to a whole other level," Stanke said. "After playing so long together, to see him perform as well as he did on a big stage was pretty special."