A swing that impresses

Highland Regional's Phillips excels despite being deaf.

Phillips, sliding back to first, had a remarkable, two-week span last May in which he batted 19 for 22 (.864) over six games, including four in the South Jersey Group 3 tournament.

Somewhere deep down on the long list of Pierce Phillips' special qualities is his lack of hearing.

Phillips, a senior at Highland Regional High School in Blackwood, is deaf. That might seem noteworthy to some people, but the folks close to the affable teenager with the curly brown hair are more impressed with his success in school, his sunny disposition, and his swing.

Especially his swing.

"The best way to describe him is that he's the same as everybody else," said Highland senior infielder/pitcher Tyler Hinchliffe, a Boston College recruit. "He's also a great hitter."

A senior second baseman, Phillips is one of the top players for one of South Jersey's top teams. His heavy hitting and solid defense are major reasons Highland (3-0) is regarded as a strong contender for Tri-County Royal Division and Group 3 sectional and state titles.

Phillips set a school record last season with 51 hits and led Highland to the South Jersey Group 3 title game with a remarkable four-game tournament run that included 14 hits in 17 at-bats (.824 average).

Phillips also literally played a pivotal role in the Tartans' turning of 54 double plays, another school record.

He is a top student who takes advanced-placement classes and recently was inducted into the Spanish honor society. He also has a black belt in karate.

"All he ever wanted was to be treated the same as everybody else," Steve Phillips said of his son. "He never wanted his situation to be held against him, but he never wanted any special treatment, either."

Pierce Phillips, who was born deaf and has played baseball since he joined a T-ball team as a 5-year-old, doesn't believe his lack of hearing is a factor on the field.

"It's pretty much the same - no problems," Phillips said through his interpreter, Jeannette Walden.

Walden, who has worked with Phillips since he was in the sixth grade, is a regular in the Highland dugout during games and practices. She sometimes will sign the coaches' instructions or teammates' comments, although Phillips can read lips.

"One of the main things I try to do is let him know what the players are saying in the dugout," Walden said. "He should know that, how they are feeling, what they are saying, whether they are happy with how they are playing."

Walden thinks Phillips' lack of hearing is an advantage in baseball.

"He sees everything," Walden said. "He's so focused."

One situation on the baseball field in which Phillips' lack of hearing could create a problem is on short fly balls into the no-man's land between the infield and outfield. Players are taught to "call" for pop-ups, a verbal signal that alerts other players to back away.

As more than one player converge on the ball, Phillips' lack of hearing could lead to a collision.

"He's been taught to turn his head and find the other fielders and then find the ball," Steve Phillips said.

Said Hinchliffe, who plays first base when he's not pitching: "Those in-between fly balls, Pierce knows to call it if he can get to it, and everybody else backs off."

Phillips studied karate for several years, earning an adult black belt from Antero Karate in Hi Nella as an 11-year-old. He also played several seasons of street hockey in Gloucester Township.

But baseball is his sport.

"Pretty much everything," Phillips said, through Walden, when asked what he likes best about baseball. "It's my best sport. All my friends are baseball players."

Phillips is off to a good start this season. He delivered a two-run single Monday in Highland's 2-0 victory over Kingsway.

At 6-foot-2, Phillips is a rangy second baseman with a strong arm. He's a line-drive hitter at the plate, although his power was on display in the Tartans' first tournament game last season, when he capped a 5-for-5 performance against Lacey Township with a game-ending home run.

On their way out of the dugout to celebrate, many of Phillips' teammates made the hearing-impaired sign for a home run, which is like a wave motion.

"Priceless," Highland coach D.J. Gore said of the moment.

Phillips was just getting started. He went 4 for 5 in a victory over Seneca, 4 for 4 in a victory over Central Regional, and 1 for 3 in the sectional title game against Ocean City.

In two non-tournament games in the same stretch, Phillips went 4 for 4 against Delsea and 1 for 1 against Clayton, bringing his batting total in that period to an astounding 19 for 22 (.864 average).

"I've never witnessed anything like it," Gore said of Phillips' hitting during that two-week period last May. "Everybody would be in the dugout saying, 'No way he gets another hit.' Next thing you know - double off the wall."

Phillips hopes to play baseball in college. He has heard from several schools and is keeping his options open.

His goals for this season are focused on the team.

"We want to go all the way in the playoffs," Phillips said.

He also has an individual goal. He wants to increase his career total to 100 hits, so his name would be included on a banner in the Highland gymnasium.

"I want to be up there," Phillips said through Walden. "I want to see my name up there."

Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223 or panastasia@phillynews.com.