CANTON -- Here's literally the only bad part of being great. When you're just very good it can feel like a letdown.
That was issue with Canton High baseball standout Andrew Middleton on Monday. The 6-1 junior left-hander ran his record to 3-0 and put up good numbers in a 5-3 Senior Day win over Sharon -- six innings, five hits, three runs, eight strikeouts, three walks.
It was solid. Just not as dazzling as his first two starts -- a 16-strikeoutperfect game vs. Attleboro in his varsity debut and a one-hit shutout (again with 16 K's) vs. Stoughton.
"I just tried to look at it as another start," said Middleton, who had a three-hit shutout with two outs in the sixth before faltering and allowing three runs. "It wasn't anything special. I didn't have everything today, but I had enough to get me the win."
Again, some perspective is in order.
VOTE FOR MIDDLETON FOR POTW:: 16 Ks, 5 for 5 at the dish, a dynamite debut: Vote for the Baseball Player of the Week
"It's a good (pitching) line for anybody else," Canton coach Ben Shuffain noted. "When you have the first two games like he had, this seems like a down game, but it's not. He went six innings, five hits, three runs. Great game. He battled through some soreness in his arm that last inning. I went out there (to the mound) to see if he could finish it, and he said yes. So that was good."
Middleton didn't make the varsity roster for Canton as a freshman in 2019. Losing the 2020 high school season to the pandemic wasn't ideal, but he said he made the most of his down time by working with the Foxboro-based GBG Hawks club program.
"GBG did a really good job of getting us a program through Driveline Baseball called TRAQ," Middleton said. "I was keeping up with those (regimens) and long-tossing in my driveway because my catcher (senior Sawyer Julier-Albert) is my neighbor, so I played catch with him."
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While spring coaches in every sport are dealing with the unknown early this season -- relying on seniors who might have been role players as sophomores in 2019, and juniors who could have been on JV the last time there was a season -- Shuffain said he sort of knew what he had with Middleton.
Although nothing could have prepared him for the perfect debut.
"First perfect game I've been a part of," Shuffain said. "It was pretty incredible. It was one of those games where you're on the edge of your seat like you're watching a scary movie. You're just waiting for something (bad) to happen. Kids made good plays. The field was a mess from rain for a few days and our left fielder fell down on the last play of the game but then he got up and made the catch.
"His second game I actually thought he was better. He walked the first kid of the game, they went for a sacrifice bunt and he didn't get to the ball in time, so the kid was safe at first. And that was it. That was the only hit and the only two baserunners of the game."
Middleton called the perfect game "surreal," noting, "Everything was working well for me. It felt like a dream. (After that) it feels like another day of baseball -- go out there and compete."
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That was easier said than done Monday as Middleton acknowledged that his fastball, which tops out at 86 mph "wasn't where it needed to be today." His nasty changeup also wasn't behaving. "I had trouble locating it," he said. "They weren't biting on it the way they normally do. When it's on, it's on."
The curve, though, was working, and he started to rely on it more the second time through the order, including in his first jam -- a bases-loaded, one-out predicament in the third. Facing Sharon cleanup hitter Justin Brown, he started him off with a pair of called strikes on curves before getting him to swing through a high fastball.
"I had confidence in my curveball today," said Middleton, who caught Ryan Baker looking on a 2-2 fastball on the inside corner to end the threat. "They weretiming up my fastball, and after the first time through (the order) I realized I had to start mixing more breaking pitches in so I could keep them off balance."
"He knows he can throw (the curveball) for a strike. He also knows he can throw it in the dirt and make them chase," saidJulier-Albert. "He makes it easy to catch for him. He throws strikes. It's never too hard being back there when he's throwing."
Shuffain said he actually enjoyed seeing Middleton run into a bit of trouble in this one, figuring adversity will steel him for later in the season.
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"I love it," the coach said. "When he walked the first guy in the Stoughton game, I was happy. This is what he needs; he needs to struggle and be able to come back because he's not going to have a perfect game every game."
Thanks in part to Middleton, Canton is off to a 5-0 start. Middleton wants to make the most of his junior campaign because it will be his last one with the Bulldogs. He plans to transfer to Dexter Southfield School in Brookline next fall and repeat his junior year, the better to build up his body for what he hopes will be a college career.
"Yeah, it was a tough choice," he said. "It was hard to leave all my friends and my teammates. But I realized how big an opportunity it was for me."
Going out on top with Canton would be ideal.
"We have depth," Middleton said of the Bulldogs' prospects. "We have a lot of people who can swing the bat and a lot of good arms. We're solid in the field. We could really do some damage this year."
Against Sharon, the Bulldogs got two hits each from center fielder Cam Sanchez, third baseman Matt Chafin and shortstop Steve Burbank, the first three hitters in the order. Nate Hewitt had a timely sacrifice fly in the sixth after Sharon had narrowed the score to 4-3, and Andrew Butler preserved Middleton's perfect record by pitchinga scoreless seventh for the save.
Even if Middleton doesn't have his A-plus game, Canton appears to be hard to beat.
"I'm having a blast," Shuffainsaid. "I coached football before this (in Fall 2), and I thought, I need some time off between sports. And then after the first week (of baseball) I was like, nope, don't need any time off. This is great. I'm loving it."
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