Baseball: Stepnoski throws 14 Ks, Mercy clinches playoff spot

If this is what Pat Stepnoski does on an average day, one can only imagine what he would do when all cylinders are running.

The junior right-hander, who already had a no-hitter under his belt this season, struck out 14 batters and allowed three hits in six innings in Bishop McGann-Mercy’s 15-0 home victory over The Stony Brook School on Tuesday.

“I’ve had better, I’ve had worse,” Stepnoski said. “So far this year, I’ve pitched mostly better. I’m not too disappointed with it because I got the W and that’s all that matters.”

And McGann-Mercy (11-4, 10-3 in Suffolk County League VIII) got something else as well. The win clinched a spot in the Suffolk County playoffs. The Monarchs’ next goal is to win the league title in its battle with Port Jefferson (9-6, 9-4), which lost at Greenport on Tuesday, 7-6, in eight innings.

“We’re in the dance,” McGann-Mercy Coach Ed Meier said, telling his team the news afterward.

“That takes a little pressure off of us,” he said later to a reporter. “Happy to be back there. … We took care of business.”

While reaching the postseason might have been a foregone conclusion to most McGann-Mercy fans, the Monarchs did not want to leave anything to chance.

“Let’s say something terrible was to happen and we do not play well and we lost our last five games,” said catcher Rocco Pascale, who went 3 for 4 with three runs batted in. “We still have a chance to do things in the playoffs, although we’d like to win as many as games as we can. Not that we’re going to work any less harder or play different, but it’s nice to know that we can start preparing to go further in the season.”

Stepnoski agreed.

“You don’t have it hanging over your head any more,” he said. “You can just focus on playing baseball. You don’t have to worry about anything, what other teams do. We just have to worry about ourselves and play our game.”

Stepnoski’s game is pitching and hitting (2 for 4 and one RBI).

But despite the gaudy numbers, Stepnoski (6-0) struggled with his control against the Bears (2-11, 2-11), particularly in the early going. He hit a batter and walked another in the first inning. Losing pitcher Dan Colassanto led off the second with a double, but was stranded at third as Stepnoski registered his sixth strikeout.

“Pat sometimes gets right off the bat ready to go,” Pascale said. “Sometimes it takes him an inning or two to find his flow and get his good motion. His mechanics were a bit rusty the first inning or two. The release point follow-through, pitching on that mound, you really do slide down a lot. It’s dirt and its not clay. The follow-through and everything is off. He did a good job of working through that.

“Fourteen Ks, three hits and no runs. He just did a great job. He hit his spots. He threw the off-speed when he needed to and where he needed to.”

While Stepnoski found his rhythm, the Monarchs’ bats hammered three pitchers for 15 hits. McGann-Mercy scored twice in the first and never looked back. First baseman Christian Lynch broke open the game with his first home run, a three-run shot to right-center field during a four-run second.

Shortstop Keith Schroeher had two doubles, one triple, three RBI and three runs scored. Left fielder D. J. Willmott collected a single, double, triple and one RBI.

“Everybody contributed,” Stepnoski said. “We put runs up on the board. It’s Mercy baseball. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Meier pulled Stepnoski, who struck out five of his final seven batters, after six innings because his pitch count was around 100.

“No need running him out there risking any injury,” he said. “He finished very nicely.”

So Meier turned to Pascale, who went from the back end to the front end of the battery in his high school pitching debut. He struck out the side swinging.

“I was excited but I wasn’t laughing or anything like the other guys were,” Pascale said. “I was taking it serious. I always thought that if I was on the mound I would keep good composure. From what everyone said I took a real long time to get through that last inning because I work slow. But to me it was going a mile a minute.”