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2003 Baseball America High School
Player of the Year: Jeff Allison
by Alan Matthews
But Massachusetts' Jeff Allison shattered those stereotypes with a senior season that earned him Baseball America's High School Player of the Year Award.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association voted last fall to ban metal bats for the 2003 regular season and tournament. Somewhere, Allison was grinning ear to ear.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthander from Veterans Memorial High of Peabody, Mass., had already dominated hitters armed with aluminum as a junior. He was downright devastating this spring against those wielding wood.
Allison tossed 63 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. He was 9-0, 0.00 with 142 strikeouts and nine walks, surrendering just 13 hits and one unearned run. He also batted .441-2-29.
"A number of times after Allison won a game all the reporters went and talked to the players that got hits," coach Ed Nizwantowski said. "That's how good he was, they wanted to talk to the guy who (reached base) against him. I've coached for 34 years and this was something special. Rarely do you run into something like this."
As electric as his arm is, Allison offers an equally overpowering attitude. He pitches with ferocity, trying to overpower opponents with both his stuff and his will.
"I don't care where you're from," Allison said. "I know where I'm from and I'm going to dominate you. It's a different mentality I've had all my life."
And Allison, the Marlins' first-round pick, supported that statement this spring. He tossed a two-hitter in his first outing, a 7-0 win over Everett (Mass.) High and spun consecutive no-hitters in May, the first in a 2-0 win against Cambridge High of Weston, Mass., and the second against Somerville (Mass.) High in a 10-0 win in which he struck out 20. Allison's award-winning season also featured four one-hitters.
"So many times during the course of the year, he would stand up guys with his breaking ball," Nizwantowski said. "But to me the difference was his control. His control was astronomical and his determination is unbelievable."
Some may say Allison's season deserves an asterisk because of Massachusetts' use of wood bats (the MIAA announced to return to aluminum bats in 2004), but he disagrees.
"You'd think it would be easier but I didn't think it was," he said. "Whenever I'm pitching every team shortens their swing. But I just play a little harder than they do and some say I get into their heads.
"You look into their face, eye-to-eye before they get into the box. Once you throw that first curveball and their knees buckle, that's when you know they're nervous. And then they're a second late on the fastball and you know you've got them."
As if his mid-90s fastball, mid-80s power breaking ball and good control weren't enough of an advantage, Allison's tenacious approach gave him an extra edge.
"He's the real deal," said Pat Yanchus, the coach at nearby St. John's Prep, which lost to Allison in the district semifinals. "He's throwing in the mid-90s, and he has a good curve and throws it almost 85. Most guys aren't throwing their fastballs that hard."
It was against Yanchus and St. John's Prep that Allison's career reached its pinnacle. In the North Division sectional semifinals, Veterans Memorial fell behind 1-0 on an unearned run in the top of eighth inning and Allison moved to right field.
"His pitch count was high and I think he just needed some time to rest," Nizwantowski said. "There were 4,000-4,500 people there and it was an (exhausting) atmosphere."
Junior righthander Ryan Moorer entered and got the final out of the inning before Allison singled in the bottom of the eighth, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error that plated the game-tying run. With two outs and pinch-hitter Robert Celanto at the plate, Allison made a gamble that paid off with the winning run.
"I was thinking to myself he wasn't going to hit the ball, so I took a real big lead," Allison said. "Then finally, on the 0-2 pitch I took off . . . the pitch was a ball and I jumped over the catcher and came back and touched home plate. There were about 4,000 people going insane."
With a 2-1 lead, Allison returned to right field, but when Danvers' Matt Antonelli reached base with one out in the ninth, Nizwantowski looked out to Allison.
"I told him to let me know when he wanted to come back in and he gave me the sign," Nizwantowski said.
"It was like a scene from a movie," Allison said. "I went into the dugout and changed my glove and no one really knew what was going on for a second. Then I came out and everyone went ballistic."
Allison retired the side, earning the win, the save and scoring the game's decisive run.
"He kept saying he wasn't going to lose to this baseball team," Nizwantowski said. "He talked the talk and walked the walk."
There won't be many steals of home or late-inning returns to the mound for Allison, but his future as a professional is promising.
Entering his senior season, he was in a group of highly regarded prep pitchers and climbed the draft charts rapidly with his lean, athletic frame and fluid delivery.
"His pitching motion is like you and I walking, thatís how easy it is," Nizwantowski said.
"He usually brings good stuff to the park and his competitiveness sets him apart," Marlins scouting director Stan Meek said. "He has a very good arm with a three-quarters, power breaking ball and good velocity. His personality of being a real tough competitor was something we really liked, as well."
Allison may have been a top 10 pick, but speculation suggested he would be tough to sign. Meek was optimistic Allison would sign and felt strongly enough about Allison's tools and makeup to take him with the 16th overall pick.
"You could call it a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, and a good chip," said Meek when asked about Allison's attitude. "It's helped him become more determined, to work harder, and we like that."