CHESHIRE — His fastball is a little faster. His curveball has a little more bite. His mindset on the mound has been sharpened.
So it’s no surprise Ben Shadeck has matured into the ace for the Cheshire American Legion baseball team.
That’s what a year of college baseball will do for a pitcher.
Two years removed from not even playing baseball, Shadeck returned to Cheshire from the University of New Haven bigger, stronger and mentally ready to lead a stacked Post 92 roster.
So far, he’s done exactly that.
“You never know when the kids come back (from college). As freshmen, they sit a lot and don’t play, so it takes a while to get going. But he jumped right in,” Post 92 head coach John Escoto said. “He was up to speed right off the bat.
“He’s definitely a tick better than he was last year,” Escoto added. “Working at a college program helped him out a lot. Being at a great program like UNH, and all the work he put in, he’s matured. He’s bigger, stronger and, mentally, he’s matured. He’s what we expected.”
Cheshire enters the weekend 9-0 after beating Meriden twice this week. Shadeck improved to 3-0 with a masterful performance Wednesday at Legion Field, where he struck out 12 Meriden batters in six shutout innings.
So far this summer, Shadeck has allowed just two runs in 18 innings of work against East Haven, Madison and Meriden. His Legion season comes on the heels of a college campaign that saw him appear in eight games out of the UNH bullpen.
Shadeck, who pitched for Cheshire High School’s 2018 state championship team, made his first college appearance against then-No. 19 St. Thomas Aquinas. He threw eight pitches to three batters and got three outs.
But it took even less to impress the UNH coaching staff during a brief tryout last September.
As Shadeck recalls, he threw “maybe three pitches” in a bullpen session before the UNH coaches stopped him. As one of eight preferred walk-ons vying to make the Chargers’ roster, Shadeck thought his college career was over before it even started.
He was wrong.
“I thought that I threw horribly and they didn’t have any use for me; I was almost ready to hang up the cleats,” Shadeck said. “But then they brought me into the office and said, ‘We like what we saw.’
“I was surprised that they said that, because I only threw a couple of pitches.”
Shadeck, along with North Haven High School outfielder and fellow walk-on Zack Pincince, made the UNH roster. His year with the Chargers has certainly paid dividends for Post 92.
“I worked on stuff I really wanted to work on,” Shadeck said. “Hitting my spots, working out in the offseason, getting stronger to get my velo up as well as my offspeed.
“Going straight to the gym the next day to work out after a road trip, it really helped our endurance and our mindset,” Shadeck continued. “It’s just a luxury to go from college, and have that defense behind me, to this defense. It’s really not much of a difference with this team. These are all college players.”
Shadeck is one of three current college players on the Post 92 roster. Shadeck’s best friend and Cheshire High teammate Ben Schena shined at Endicott College as a freshman, hitting .333 in 35 games.
Shadeck’s final numbers this season at UNH weren’t great. He finished with an 8.78 ERA over 13 1/3 innings.
His ERA, however, was inflated by a pair of bad outings against Bridgeport and Adelphi. After his debut against St. Thomas Aquinas, Shadeck threw scoreless frames at Dominican College of New York and Southern Connecticut. He actually struck out the side against Southern.
“I was as nervous as sin,” admits Shadeck about his first college appearance. “I remember just waiting in the dugout. It felt like the longest time in my life. I was getting antsy and was ready to go out there.”
His longest relief outing was 4 2/3 innings against Stonehill in which he gave up five runs in a 15-9 loss.
And while Shadeck is happy to be in UNH’s bullpen, he wouldn’t mind starting for the Chargers in the future.
“I’m not sure about starting (next season),” Shadeck said. “Once I get back on campus, since I’m starting here (for Post 92), maybe I’ll ask about a starting role. I’d like to start, but whatever they tell me to do, I’ll do. I’m just going to do what I have to do.”
It’s that level-headed mentality that keeps Shadeck grounded despite the success he’s enjoyed.
Shadeck wasn’t recruited at all out of high school despite being Cheshire’s No. 2 starter on a state championship team. He was content to walk on at UNH; surprised himself by making the Chargers’ roster, now just goes about his business as a leader on Post 92.
“I just want to be a role model for the younger kids (on Post 92),” Shadeck said. “Just show them that anything is possible. Show them with hard work anything is possible.”
Coming off the high school state championship last spring, Shadeck helped lead Post 92 to a 30-5 record and appearance in last year’s Southern Division Super Regionals. While Cheshire lost 5-0 to Southington in 13 innings in the pivotal game, Shadeck threw seven scoreless innings.
Last year’s Legion campaign was Shadeck’s first. In fact, he didn’t play high school baseball until his senior season, when he was the Rams’ No. 2 starter behind Ben DeLaubell.
But Shadeck was a big reason why Cheshire High School won a state championship. He was also one of this year’s biggest fans of the Rams as they tried to repeat.
“I probably followed (this year’s Cheshire High School team) better than I followed my own team,” said Shadeck, who along with Schena and DeLaubell was at every Cheshire playoff game. “I just wanted to see them continue winning.”
Shadeck is part of a group of Cheshire players who have created a legacy of winning, not only at the high school, but during the summer in Legion ball. Getting the chance to play one final season with Schena and others made Shadeck’s return to Post 92 that more special.
“It’s nice to play with these guys again,” Shadeck said. “I’ve played with them ever since I can remember, so it’s just fun playing with them one last time.”
“Me and Ben have been good friends for a while,” Schena said. “We’ve been playing together since we were 8-years old.
“(After last year) he went his way and I went my way, but we kept texting each other all season," Schena added. "Coming into this (Legion) year, we were both super excited. We have such an elite team.”