BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
Pat Stepnoski showed his home-run swing twice for Bishop McGann-Mercy on Friday.
Forgetting the fact that he had slugged a home run in his first at-bat of the game, Pat Stepnoski was sizzling with anger at himself for what he had done in his next two plate appearances.
The Bishop McGann-Mercy High School center fielder had struck out with the bases loaded in the second inning and then grounded out to strand two base runners in the fourth inning of Friday’s home game against the Smithtown Christian Crusaders.
“I get pretty ticked off when I get out, especially when I make a bad out like a strikeout,” Stepnoski said. “That gets on me a little bit.”
Does it help his focus?
“Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.
On Friday, it apparently did.
In his fourth at-bat, Stepnoski did what he did in his first, driving the ball out for the second two-home-run game of his career. The sophomore blasted a pair of two-run shots in McGann-Mercy’s 10-1 beating of Smithtown Christian. With Stepnoski’s four runs batted in and five-hit pitching from Al Yakabowski (1-2), the Monarchs (8-3, 6-3 Suffolk County League VIII) swept the three-game series, giving a boost to their playoff prospects.
“I feel a lot more confident at the plate,” said Stepnoski, who belted two homers in a game against The Stony Brook School Bears last year. “I’m seeing the pitching better. I have a better approach at the plate.”
Stepnoski’s two home runs, which gave him three for the season, equalling his total from last year, were nearly identical. They both came on two-strike counts, and they both saw the ball travel an estimated 370 feet, over the center-field fence.
Stepnoski slugged the first homer off an off-speed pitch from Dylan Prince (2-2) for a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and his second drive from a Steven Massaro fastball completed the game’s scoring in the sixth.
“Anything off-speed he just lays back and he just crushes,” Smithtown Christian Coach Craig Gorton said. “He had a good series against us. We tried to move it around, but he pretty much hit it where we pitched it. He’s an aggressive hitter. He goes after you, and he hurt us. He hurt us a lot.”
Stepnoski may be a 10th-grader, but he is also a veteran in his third varsity season.
“It’s his third year in the league, so he’s no secret any more,” McGann-Mercy Coach Ed Meier said. “The more he plays and the more he shows how he can play, the more people are going to know about him.”
To call Stepnoski a power hitter might be selling him short because he can do more than just hit home runs. His batting average, which is hovering around .400, is a testament to that.
“He can hit for average, he can hit for power,” Meier said. “If you make a mistake, he’ll put it over [the fence], but he can fight off tough pitches and put the ball in play, too.”
Stepnoski admitted there are times when he is tempted to swing for the fences, and that doesn’t always work out.
“I’m just trying to hit for average,” he said. “Sometimes I get caught up trying to hit a home run, and that’s when I strike out or ground out or do bad.”
Friday wasn’t a bad day for the Stepnoski family, which lives in Southold. Pat Stepnoski’s brother, Connor, had two hits himself, including a double. McGann-Mercy also received two-hit games from Keith Schroeher, Tom Tenaglia, Rocco Pascale and Ian Traynor as part of its 14-hit barrage. One of Schroeher’s hits was a two-run single that made it 8-1 in the fifth.
Yakabowski was supported by clean fielding behind him as he picked up the complete-game win in his best outing of the season. The left-hander struck out eight and walked one.
Yakabowski’s shutout bid ended in the fifth when Brian Lutz struck out, but reached first base with two out when the ball went past the catcher, Traynor. Sam Patti and Manny Roman followed up with singles, the latter of which knocked in the only run for the Crusaders, who took their seventh loss in 10 games.
“They wanted it more than us,” said Smithtown Christian second baseman Kyle Gorton, who is the coach’s son. “We need to come out and work hard and play hard, and they just outplayed us and outworked us.”
Smithtown Christian looks like an improved team from last year. The Crusaders took two games from Port Jefferson and one from Southold earlier this season, but ran into a McGann-Mercy team that can put up runs. The Monarchs scored 34 runs in the series, which included a wild 14-13 affair last Thursday.
The significance of Friday’s result was that it pulled McGann-Mercy to within two wins of clinching a playoff spot. “When you’re playing 15 games, and you have to be one game over .500 [to qualify for the postseason], every single game is very important,” said Meier.
It also helps when Pat Stepnoski swings the bat the way he can.
“It’s hard for me to see him as a sophomore,” Meier said. “He doesn’t look like a sophomore. He looks more like a senior but, yeah, I’m happy he has the Mercy uniform on.”