Larry Patterson, former Benedictine ace pitcher and Ashley Dearing Award winner, dies at 78

·5 min read

Back in the late 1950s and early '60s, baseball coaches weren't worried about pitch counts or how many innings their hurlers worked – and that suited Benedictine's Larry Patterson just fine.

Standing about 6-foot-3, Patterson was a thin right-hander who threw a fastball in the 90s and was the ace on the Cadet squad that won the first state baseball title in school history in 1961. Patterson threw a no-hitter in the first game of the three-game state championship series and won the third in relief – he earned the win in all three games.

Read More: As Benedictine plays for state baseball crown, former Cadets remember first title in 1961

Patterson also was also a star on the basketball court and the football field for the Cadets and was named the winner of the Ashley Dearing Award as the most versatile athlete in Savannah in his senior season of 1961.

Patterson died this week in Rincon after a long illness. He was 78.

Larry Patterson's senior portrait from Benedictine's 1961 yearbook.
Larry Patterson's senior portrait from Benedictine's 1961 yearbook.

The 1961 Benedictine state championship baseball team was the first to win a state crown in any sport for the Cadets. The group has stayed close throughout the years, with Charlie Russo – the owner of Russo's Fresh Seafood, which opened in Savannah in 1946 – always there to make sure they stayed connected.

Russo went to school with Patterson since their days at Blessed Sacrament and stayed in touch with his friend until the end.

Russo said Patterson, with his intimidating fastball, and Barry Wilson, the crafty lefty who doubled as BC's star quarterback, kept opponents and Cadets coach Charlie Moore off-balance.

"Larry was our iron horse; he would pitch inning after inning," Russo said. "He had that durability. One time we had a doubleheader against Aquinas we played at Daffin Park, with Larry set to throw the first game and Barry the second. So Larry is throwing a great game, as usual, and we're getting to the later innings and Barry still hasn't showed up to the ballpark. He came strolling up at the end of the first game and coach Moore asked him where he had been.

"Barry said he had been at the beach at Tybee, since he wasn't going to pitch until the second game. Coach Moore told him to sit at the end of the bench, and he would call on him if he needed to. And he pitched Larry again in that second game, and he went the distance. That's how strong he was on the mound."

Also: All-Greater Savannah Football Coach of the Year and Offensive Football Team announced

A Savannah Morning News article chronicled the state championship win over Lanier of Macon in 1961, which described Patterson in colorful fashion.

"The tall BC wonder, finally did yield two hits, something he did not do the opening day. With 17 drooling major league scouts on hand the BC senior lowered his earned run average for 58 2-3 innings this season to a microscopic 0.12 as he gained his third tournament victory. For the Cadets over-all, it was their 14th win against only three losses."

Patterson narrowly beat out his friend and teammate Hank Lehwald, who was his catcher, for the Ashley Dearing Award his senior year. Patterson was drafted by the Cleveland Indians, while Lehwald signed with the Dodgers out of high school.

Larry Patterson (right) with his Benedictine teammate and catcher Hank Lehwald.
Larry Patterson (right) with his Benedictine teammate and catcher Hank Lehwald.

"That tells you about the talent we had on our championship team," Russo said. "I went to work in Alaska after my senior year and Larry was pitching in the minors for the Indians in Dubuque, Iowa. I was able to see him out there, and he was dominating."

Patterson pitched in the Cleveland organization for about four years, before leaving baseball to focus on his family. The father of four worked for Chatham Steel and eventually settled in Rincon.

Big-game player

Moore said coaching Patterson was an experience he will never forget.

"He was the best pitcher BC ever had until Carter Holton (now a freshman left-hander at Vanderbilt) came around," Moore said. "I remember the speed on that fastball, his control and the endurance he had. It was probably bad looking back at how much we used him, but that's the way it was back then and Larry wanted the ball in every big game.

"He lost an eye in a childhood accident and overcame that to become such a great athlete. And Larry was never cocky. He was always ready to do the job when he was called on."

In this May 2021 file photo, Charlie Russo holds a ball autographed by Benedictine pitcher Carter Holton as he stands with with some of his teammates from the 1961 state championship baseball team: Denny Herb, Stan Friedman and coach Charlie Moore.
In this May 2021 file photo, Charlie Russo holds a ball autographed by Benedictine pitcher Carter Holton as he stands with with some of his teammates from the 1961 state championship baseball team: Denny Herb, Stan Friedman and coach Charlie Moore.

Denny Herb was a baseball and basketball teammate of Patterson, and has so many stories to tell about his friend.

"He was a hell of an athlete, and he was funny. I was the point guard and he was the center on the basketball team," Herb said. "We had a game against Jenkins once, and were tied at the half. He was about ready to leave at halftime because he said I wasn't getting him the ball enough. But he came back, I got him the ball and we won.

"I was lucky I never had to hit against him because, thank God, he was always on my team," Herb said. "He was all-city in baseball, basketball and football — you don't see that much anymore. We're going to miss Larry."

More: All-Greater Savannah Football Defensive Teams announced

The family will receive friends on Monday, Jan. 24, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Richmond Hill Funeral Home.

Patterson is survived by four children: Donna Patterson Reynolds (Billy), Stephen Patterson (Amy), Scott Patterson, Pamela Patterson James (Billy); and brother, Donald Patterson (Maxine), along with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The family requests that persons attending adhere to CDC COVID-19 guidelines and masks are required.

Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at Dknight@savannahnow.com. Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Former Benedictine star athlete Larry Patterson dies at 78

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