Righthanded pitcher Casey Sutton seemed to be the least excited person in the Sterlington High School lobby after signing with Hinds (Miss.) Community College on Friday morning.
"I'm actually relieved," Sutton said. "Putting up with all the recruiting stuff during the season was kind of stressful at times."
Any stress Sutton has felt hasn't carried over onto the mound. Firing a two-hitter in Friday night's 4-0 first-round playoff victory over Doyle, Sutton raised his record to 12-0 with a stunning 17:1 strikeouts to walks ratio (118 punchouts, 7 walks), while allowing 50 hits in 80 innings.
"Casey's having a dream senior year," said Sterlington coach Randy Carr, who is in his 27th season as a high school coach. "I've had (Major League) draft picks play for me, but never one like him. He's the measuring stick now, the one I'll compare everybody else to."
Sutton chose Hinds over Jones County (Miss.) Junior College, Mississippi Delta, Pearl River (Miss.) and Northwest Texas.
Though the junior colleges involved are hardly "big name" schools, the recruiting war for Sutton's services grew quite intense.
"What a fierce recruiting battle for Casey," Sterlington head baseball coach Randy Carr said. "He handled the recruiting very well and very maturely, which speaks volumes about him."
Northwestern State was the only four-year school to offer Sutton, though LSU, Southern Mississippi and Southeastern Louisiana expressed interest.
Sterlington pitching coach Mark Sims was disappointed in two schools that didn't recruit Sutton.
"What I don't understand is how our local schools right down the road, don't give Casey a chance to pitch," Sims said. "It's not like he's not (academically) qualified. He is qualified. I hope they can come back in a couple of years and get him."
Sims says the general rule of thumb that an average Class 5A player is better than a star 2A player doesn't apply in Sutton's case.
"Casey can pitch for ULM. Casey can pitch for (La.) Tech. I think I have enough background to make that assumption," said Sims, who spent nearly a decade as a minor league pitcher and has coached several big-time pitchers, including current Toronto Blue Jays' reliever Aaron Loup. "I saw ULM at one of our games for three innings. I haven't seen Tech all year, but I've seen every junior college in Mississippi at our games. I don't think Casey has gotten his due. The kid deserves better."
For his part, Sutton appears content taking the juco route.
"I want to play my first two years instead of sitting on the bench," Sutton said.
Since Mississippi junior colleges are only permitted four out-of-state signees, Sutton is certain to have the opportunity to pitch right away at Hinds.
When asked why he chose Hinds, Sutton replied, "Definitely, the coaches. Plus, it's not too far from home and they have promoted a lot of guys to the D-1 level after two years."
Page 2 of 2 - Ouachita Christian catcher Jonathan Washam, who recently signed with Hinds, and Sutton plan to room together in the fall.
Sutton says he didn't consider himself a college prospect until his junior year.
"I didn't really give playing college baseball much thought until my junior year when I received my first letter from ULM," Sutton said. "Before that (playing college baseball) was just people talking and telling me about their expectations."
Hinds assistant coaches Chad Bradford and Dan Rives, who traveled from Raymond, Miss. (Jackson area) to attend the ceremony, have high expectations for Sutton with the Eagles.
"He's going to come in throwing strikes, which is what we want," said Bradford, who pitched for six different teams during a 12-year Major League career. "It's unusual for a kid coming out of high school to be able to throw strikes with more than one pitch, but Casey can throw his fastball, breaking ball and change for strikes."
Sutton, who played wide receiver and linebacker for the Panthers' football team, will now devote his full attention to pitching.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him progress in a setting where he can come in and focus on baseball year round," Bradford said.
At 6-4, 215 pounds with a fastball topping out in the upper 80s, Sutton has the tools to succeed beyond high school.
"The first thing we liked about Casey was his size," Rives said. "Secondly, he possesses what we're looking for in a pitcher. He throws a lot of strikes and has good velocity."
Rives and Sims both predict that Sutton's velocity will increase over the next couple of years.
"Personally, I think he may get into the lower 90s one day," Rives said.
"When he fully matures strength and body-wise, he's going to be a 90-92 guy," Sims said.
Between stints at West Monroe and Hahnville, Sims has coached an impressive line of high school pitchers, which includes Loup, Chicago White Sox draft pick Brian West, Jordan Brown (LSU), and Shelby Aulds, who currently pitches for ULM. Sims says Sutton belongs in that group.
"Over the years, I've had the pleasure of coaching a few draft picks and SEC signees," Sims said, "and Casey Sutton is one of the most polished pitchers I've ever had the pleasure of coaching. He's one of the best I've ever coached. His future on the mound is in his hands."