WILDCATS 9, EAGLES 7 (8 innings)
For six innings Friday afternoon, Shoreham-Wading River senior Mike O’Reilly struggled on the mound in a way unlike any game in his varsity career.
A lingering ankle injury made it difficult for him to plant his right leg as he released the ball. He couldn’t locate his breaking pitch. He left his fastball up. And the Rocky Point Eagles, the No. 4 seed in Class A, ripped across seven runs off him, more than he’d give up the entire season combined.
Through it all, he still stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning of a tied game with a chance to wipe the slate clean.
Boy, did he deliver.
O’Reilly belted the first pitch he saw off James Forbes, sending it high over the left-center field fence for a two-run walk-off home run to lift the Wildcats to a dramatic come-from-behind 9-7 victory in their playoff opener.
“I just got to thank my team for keeping us in it,” O’Reilly said. “I was down all game. I didn’t really have my best stuff. I didn’t pitch my best game but we kept fighting.”
The Wildcats rallied from a 4-0 hole and a 6-5 deficit in a wild back-and-forth game that featured a plethora of clutch hits to go with some suspect defense.
The win sends Shoreham, the defending Class A champions, to the next round Wednesday where the Wildcats (17-4) will face second-seeded Bayport-Blue Point. The Phantoms blew out Miller Place Friday 13-0.
To start the eighth inning, Rocky Point left fielder Trevor Mercier made two superb catches on line drives for the first two outs. Shoreham first baseman Nick Bottari came up next and singled over the third base bag on the first pitch he saw.
“I felt pretty good going into the eighth inning knowing Bottari was guaranteed an at-bat,” said Shoreham coach Sal Mignano. “And then if he got on O’Reilly was going to get up. But I didn’t expect that.”
O’Reilly, who was 3-for-5 with 4 RBIs, said he felt like he let his team down early in the game.
“I knew I was going to get another opportunity to step up and I just got the right pitch at the right time,” he said.
O’Reilly came into the game having given up only four earned runs all season total. His only loss of the season came 1-0 against Bayport.
But the Eagles (15-7) scraped across an unearned run in the second, then added another in the third on a two-out double by Tyler Piccolo. Then in the fourth inning designated hitter Brennan Strovink and second baseman Will Serviss hit back-to-back home runs to make it 4-0.
“When you’re down 4-0 with the best pitcher in the county on the mound, you’re not feeling too good,” Mignano said. “Give Rocky Point credit for hitting him the way they did.”
The Wildcats came to life in the in the bottom of the fourth with a five-run inning to take the lead. All the runs came with two outs. With a runner on second, the No. 9 hitter Dan DeVito drew a walk to flip the lineup back to the top. Steve Schneider followed with a slow grounder to shortstop that wasn’t handled allowing the first run to score.
The flood gates opened from there. O’Reilly doubled to right-center to score two runs and tie the game. Dan Luppens followed with an RBI single to left to give Shoreham its first lead of the afternoon.
“We’ve been pretty resilient all year and good at coming back,” O’Reilly said. “It’s a trait we’re good at.”
The Wildcats needed to come back again because the Eagles weren’t done yet. Rocky Point answered with two more in the top of the fifth to regain the lead 6-5.
Schneider came through with a clutch hit in the bottom of the inning with a single to center field that got under the glove of the fielder. That allowed a second run to score on the play and gave the Wildcats a 7-6 lead.
Again, the Eagles came back. Dan Soranno hit a two-out single into right field to tie the game at 7. On a 1-2 pitch to Forbes in the next at-bat, O’Reilly threw a wild pitch that richoched off the backstop. Soranno took off for second, but catcher Jonathan Criscito gunned him down to end the inning.
“They scrapped like champions today, it just didn’t work out in the end,” said Rocky Point coach Andrew Aschettino. “One of the best players on Long Island is the guy that beat us. Our guys stuck their nose in this thing and fought as hard as they possibly could.”
Rocky Point falls to the loser’s bracket of the double elimination tournament and will host No. 6 Mount Sinai at 1 p.m. Saturday.
— Rocky Point starter Frank Moscatiello, a sophomore, left the game in the third inning in the middle of an at-bat to Bottari. Moscatiello has been dealing with a nerve displacement in the right elbow of his pitching arm. Aschettino said it first happened about a month ago. He didn’t pitch for a few weeks, then came back to throw a few pitches against Sayville then six innings against Harborfields May 11.
In the third inning he felt discomfort again so the Eagles went to the bullpen and brought in another sophomore in Forbes, who pitched the rest of the game.
— Shoreham senior Mike DiSanti pitched the final two innings to earn the victory. He gave up one hit. He retired the Eagles in order in the eighth, the only inning all game Rocky Point didn’t have a base runner. DiSanti has been the Wildcats’ go-to pitcher out of the bullpen all season.
— Mignano said the starter for Wednesday’s game is to be determined. He said he’ll wait to see how O’Reilly feels. The Wildcats could elect to pitch Dan DeVito, who is 5-0 this season pitching second in the rotation.
— In a surreal moment for Mignano, he found himself coaching a game that featured two sons of former players he coached together. Tyler Osik is the son of former Major Leaguer Keith Osik. Brennan Strovink is the son of Eric Strovink, who was one of the top players in Shoreham history. Keith and Eric led Shoreham to the programs’ only state title in 1987. They both have their numbers retired.
— Friday’s game featured a similar script to the Wildcats’ playoff opener last year against Bayport, which was the No. 7 seed. The Wildcats, as the No. 2 seed, rallied from a three-run hole in the bottom of the seventh inning to win on a walk-off hit. The Wildcats went on to advance all the way to the Long Island Championship game.
— Shoreham split four games against Bayport this season. The Phantoms were the only team to beat the Wildcats twice.