Every now and then, Jimmy Luppens still gets an itch to pitch.
“I ask coach all the time, ‘Hey, when am I getting into pitch?’ ” Luppens said after the Riverhead Tomcats split a doubleheader Tuesday afternoon against Sag Harbor at Riverhead High School.
In his days at Shoreham-Wading River, Luppens was the kind of player who could slide all around the field, including on the mound where the Wildcats relied heavily on his right arm as a starter. Now after two years in college at Canisius, his pitching duties are mostly behind him, as are all the other positions he may have once played.
He’s found a permanent home at first base.
What hasn’t changed is that big bat that always instilled fear into an opposing pitcher. As a junior at Shoreham Luppens hit .436 with five home runs and 22 RBIs. He followed that up with another strong season as a senior, earning all-state honors.
In his second year now playing for the Tomcats, Luppens has provided a big boost to the middle of the order. He hit a two-run home run in the first game against Sag Harbor, a 4-0 Riverhead win, for his fourth home run of the season.
“It was a fastball middle and up in the zone,” Luppens said. “I was just thinking about hitting a fly ball and getting a sacrifice fly.”
Luppens came into the day batting .364 and he leads the team with 15 RBIs in 12 games. No other player for Riverhead has hit double-digit RBIs yet.
“Jimmy’s hitting the ball really well,” said Riverhead coach Randy Caden. “The last third of the season [last year] he was probably our hardest hitter. He has a good approach and his confidence is there. And he knows he can hit the ball. He’s not afraid of this.”
Luppens reached base once in Game 2 Tuesday when he was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning of a 2-1 loss. He advanced to third with two outs and the Tomcats trailing by a run, but was left stranded.
Luppens came into the summer off a superb season with the Golden Griffins in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. He led the team with a .503 slugging percentage and drove in 32 runs while hitting .346. Canisius went 16-8 in conference and advanced to the finals of the conference tournament before falling to Manhattan.
“We lost two heartbreakers to Manhattan, but they’re a good team,” Luppens said.
The Golden Griffins lost 3-2 in extra innings of the final game to end the season. The first game of the best-of-three series also ended with an extra inning, one-run loss for Canisius.
Now back with the Tomcats, Luppens has helped lead the team to an 8-6 record. In an 11-5 win over Shelter Island Saturday Luppens drove in five runs and hit a home run.
“I knew he had a great college year,” Caden said. “And I was expecting him to have a good year and he’s doing what I expected — get base hits, have some power. He plays a pretty good first base for us.”
Caden said the way Luppens has grown and matured since he started on the team last year, he’s developed into the kind of player who’s hard to take out of the lineup.
“You give him a days rest here and there, but now you got that kid coming off the bench and he could lose it in any park at any time,” Caden said.
Looking ahead Luppens said he hopes to keep hitting the ball hard, help the Tomcats win and keep working toward the goal every player dreams about: getting drafted.
“It’s just one of my goals,” he said. “I don’t know if it’ll get achieved or not, but I guess that’s everybody’s goal.”
Riverhead got some outstanding pitching in both games of the doubleheader Tuesday, giving up a total of one earned run over 14 innings. Mike Trionfo, a senior from Towson, threw a complete game shutout in the Tomcats’ win, giving up just one hit and striking out six.
Will Bacon threw four innings to start Game 2 and took the loss. Sag Harbor tied the game at one in the third inning. Grant Shambley hit a ball into right field with a runner at first going on the pitch. The ball got under the glove of the right fielder, allowing the runner to come around to score and tie the game. Sag Harbor took the lead with a RBI single in the fourth from Jake Kinsley.
Zack Hopf, a junior from St. Peter’s, came in for Riverhead to pitch the final three innings.