After winning so many games last season (24 to be exact), the Shoreham-Wading River High School baseball team lost a lot — namely 16 players to graduation, seven of whom are playing in college.
Among them is Brian Morrell (Notre Dame), the two-time winner of the Carl Yastrzemski Award, which goes to the best player in Suffolk County.
That is quite a turnover, and presents the current Wildcats with a challenge in their bid to win a third straight League VII championship and reach the playoffs for a 33rd consecutive year.
“The team has counted on Brian to do a lot of the run scoring and pitching,” coach Kevin Willi said. “Now this year the leadership is going to be kind of spread around. It’s going to be more of a team effort this year to win games.”
Shoreham (24-2), which lost to Wantagh in last year’s Long Island Class A final, will rely on its only returning starter and one of the team’s four seniors, Ryan Mullahey. The righthander pitches, catches and plays first base.
“What was really impressive about Mullahey last year was his pitching,” said Willi.
Mullahey, who has committed to Long Island University-Brooklyn as a catcher, had a 31-inning streak of not allowing an earned run. He posted a 7-0 record with a 1.24 ERA, striking out 56 in 50 innings. He also had a .400 batting average.
The only other returning players are seniors Gabriel Romano and Jesse Keshner. Romano, a 6-5, 200-pound righthanded pitcher with a fastball in the upper 80s that may attract the attention of pro scouts, will play for Quinnipiac University (Conn.). Keshner, a middle infielder bound for SUNY/New Paltz, earned a starting spot at second base last year before injuring a knee sliding into second base.
Mason Kelly, a junior centerfielder/pitcher, looks to have secured a starting position in the field and in the pitching rotation. He’s Shoreham’s fastest player and has a good arm. “He’s going to be one of our stars this year, I think,” said Willi.
Senior co-captains Joseph Brown (utility player) and Ethan Baumack (catcher/designated hitter) will also have valuable roles as well as junior third baseman Nick Bettenhauser. Baumack is headed to Lebanon Valley College (Penn.).
“Obviously, we have a couple of college commits on the team,” Willi said. “Four of our seniors are going to the next level. We do have the talent. What we lack is the varsity experience. My job is to get these guys ready for the big time, get them ready for the show. It’s been difficult with the weather, but we’re trying to get these guys ready.”
It looks as if Riverhead (8-12) is in a better position this year to secure a playoff spot, something it fell one win short of last year. There is a catch, though: catcher. Riverhead needs to find a catcher.
“We really have to figure out our catching position,” said coach Rob Maccone.
Currently, the team has three catching candidates. Sophomore Isaiah Barbieri and freshman Colin Bendernagel “both seem equal,” said Maccone. Jared Cawley, a junior who can also play in the infield, is in the catching mix, too.
College-bound seniors Scott Thompson (Adelphi University) and Darnell Chandler (St. Thomas Aquinas College) lead Riverhead. Thompson, an All-League selection who pitches and plays first base, went 2-3 with a 1.80 ERA last year. At the plate he hit .295 with nine RBIs. Chandler pitches and can play in the outfield or first base. He went 1-1 with a 2.50 ERA and hit .290 last year.
Those two make up the starting pitching rotation along with Nick Dejewski, who had a team-leading .421 batting average.
Riverhead also has third-year varsity players Tommy Powers, a senior centerfielder; Ryan Lull, a senior shortstop; and Chris Jehle, a senior third baseman/second baseman. Senior pitcher/outfielder Jared Polak and senior outfielder Cole Devereaux platooned in the outfield last year. Also back are pitcher/infielder Andrew Gallo and first baseman Joe Stimpfel, who are both seniors.
The new additions are outfielder Brandon Foley, outfielder Jack Krulder, catcher/infielder Jared Cawley, pitcher/utility player Ben Cutrone, shortstop/pitcher Jose Santana, infielder Kyle Schiavone and outfielder Mike Scher. Santana was struck with appendicitis at the end of February. Maccone hopes he will be cleared to play by mid-April.
“I like the way we pitch and the way we play defense,” Maccone said. “Even in the cold, I think we made one or two errors in two scrimmages. If our pitchers throw strikes, they’re going to be tough to hit.”
Having lost only four seniors from last year, Riverhead aims to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“Expectations are higher,” Maccone said. “The kids know it, so that’s a big difference.”
Bishop McGann-Mercy (4-16) looks likely to win more games this season, but there remains a dark cloud hanging over the Monarchs’ season, nonetheless. With the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s recent announcement that it will close the Riverhead Catholic school at the conclusion of the school year, this will be Mercy’s final baseball season.
“It affects everyone in different ways,” coach Ed Meier said. “We all have a different investment in this place. We’re trying to use it as a rallying cry: the last team in 50 years to go through here, so let’s win it all.”
Mercy has been dropped down from League VIII to League IX. With a lower league, and more experience, the Monarchs are expecting better results.
“I think these guys are confident,” Meier said. “With another year under their belt, they’re ready.”
Junior Matt Chilicki (2-4, 2.78 ERA, 29 strikeouts) and sophomore Andrew Smith head the pitching rotation, with senior Allan Zilnicki and sophomore Joe Marti competing for the No. 3 spot.
When not pitching, Chilicki plays shortstop, Smith (.381, 21 RBIs) plays leftfield, Zilnicki plays first base and Marti plays second base or third.
Mercy is also counting on veterans like Christian Shackel, a senior corner outfielder, freshman second baseman Christian Doroski and junior third baseman Sean Hinck.
Heading into their first varsity seasons are centerfielder Ryan Razzano, catcher Phil Marino and Chris Atkinson, who can play the middle infield or corner outfield positions.
“We’re looking to win,” Meier said. “The last two years we’ve kind of been in a rebuilding mode, kind of getting ready for this season. Now they’re ready to play.”
“It’s a real team,” he continued. “We got solid defense all the way around. We don’t make a ton of mistakes.”
The Monarchs want to leave Mercy with winning memories.
“We’re trying to live in the moment this season,” Meier said. He added: “I want to win. It would be nice to win it all for the last time. It’s been an honor to work here … I wouldn’t change this time for anything.”
Top photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River pitcher Ryan Mullahey had a 7-0 record with a 1.24 ERA, striking out 56 in 50 innings last year. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)