Scott Mitchell

Pitcher Scott Mitchell prepares for South River's game against Severna Park. (Patrick Smith / Baltimore Sun / April 5, 2013)

After more than 100 pitches, the fastball had lost some steam and the breaking ball that baffled batters earlier in the game didn't have the same snap.

South River senior pitcher Scott Mitchell, his dirty jersey showing the effects of an already demanding day, took a deep breath as pitching coach Gary Gubbings approached the mound for a second visit in the seventh inning.

"Can you get this last guy out?" Gubbings asked as he looked the No. 5 Seahawks' ace in the eyes.

Mitchell's response was quick and direct: "I got him."

With two runners on against No. 10 Severna Park in an Anne Arundel County matchup, Mitchell threw a high fastball that Falcons second baseman Danny Fulton swung through for the third strike to end the Seahawks' 2-1 win in early April.

Mitchell doesn't handle last-inning jams the way he did in the past. For that matter, he doesn't handle anything in life the same way.

Less than two years ago, shortly after finishing his sophomore year, Mitchell learned he had been living with a severe heart defect since birth. Instead of going to a tryout at Camden Yards and starting another summer filled with baseball, he was on an operating table at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"It just came out of the blue, so we were all pretty shocked," Mitchell said. "It was like, 'Wow, at any point, I could have died from a heart attack because my blood pressure was so high.' Now, I'm just glad to be here."

Mitchell suffered from coarctation of the aorta, a congenital heart disease that is the narrowing of the body's largest artery. The aorta carries oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the rest of the body — and Mitchell's was completely blocked.

"It was extraordinarily rare," said Dr. Michael Slack, the cardiologist who performed two procedures to open Mitchell's aorta. "You might wonder how someone can be alive with that, but the fact is he had it since he was a little baby, so his body adapted by making collaterals with other arteries of the body that bypassed the blocked aorta."

Mitchell, then 16, first underwent a stent angioplasty of the aorta on July 5, 2011, opening it up 14 to 15 millimeters. A second procedure the following summer extended the same stent to a full adult diameter. The heart of the South River (15-5) baseball team is now fixed and flourishing.

Unable to play baseball for three months following his first surgery, Mitchell returned to the field in time for his junior year. He only missed about four weeks after the second procedure — and now he's starring for the Seahawks, who are scheduled to face No. 3 North County in the Anne Arundel County championship Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Joe Cannon Stadium.

On the mound, Mitchell has a 5-0 record, 0.44 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 48 innings. He's hitting .406 with 15 RBIs and 23 runs scored.

"He's the glue that holds us together," junior shortstop Kyle Canavan said about Mitchell. "His passion for baseball is phenomenal and how he came back after his heart condition is very inspirational to all of us. To deal with something like that, be as good as he was and come back even better is very impressive."

'Hoping I was going to be all right'

Mitchell's love for baseball started when he was 3 years old. His mother, Karen, would come home from work and Scott would greet her at the front door.

"Pitch to me," he would say, and the two would go out in the backyard for a half-hour before she went back inside to make dinner.

"We'd be out there pretty much every day it wasn't raining or below freezing," Karen Mitchell said.

So, after winning 13 games and batting over .400 on varsity through his first two years in high school, the news of his ailing heart stunned Mitchell. Aside from the lingering cough that prompted the visit to the doctor, he felt fine.

After the doctor listened to his heart and looked at the chest X-ray, he ordered Mitchell to immediately stop playing baseball and see a cardiologist.