The light at the end of the tunnel is starting to shine for the Shoreham-Wading River baseball team.
After winning the League VI championship last year and falling short of the bigger prize in the postseason, the Wildcats have eyed this year’s playoffs from the season’s first pitch.
“I think in the back of their mind is next week is what we’ve been waiting for for three years,” said Shoreham coach Sal Mignano. “I’m sure they’ll be ready.”
The Wildcats opened the season playing three-game sets against East Hampton, Sayville and Rocky Point, all the teams that have qualified for the postseason. Last week the Wildcats had their bye week before finishing out against Westhampton, a team that’s struggled mightly all season.
The Wildcats cruised to a 17-0 victory Thursday afternoon to improve to 13-4 in league. While the Wildcats won’t be winning the league title this year — Sayville has won 12 in a row since the Wildcats beat them twice in early April for their only two losses — they could still earn as high as the No. 2 seed in the Class A playoffs.
The top three teams from League V are all Class AA schools. Hauppauge, the leaders in League V, defeated the Wildcats in the loser’s bracket last year, but the Eagles bumped up a classification this season. Kings Park at 9-7 is the only team to qualify from League V.
“I feel like we’re as strong as anybody and Sayville is as strong as anybody,” Mignano said. “I think this year in particular the best teams are the League VI schools.”
Once the playoffs begin, Mignano knows it’s imperative to win the first game and most likely the second game, too. While the tournament is double elimination, dropping a game early puts a team in a precarious position of having to win a lot of games in a short time period.
Last year the Wildcats fell in their second round game to Mount Sinai, came back to beat Sayville before losing the following day to Hauppauge, 5-3.
“We were in the loser’s bracket two or three years ago and ended up playing four in a row,” Mignano said. “By the fourth day, you’re tapped. They’re not used to it.”
When the playoffs open the Wildcats will lean on their ace Dan Sperruzzi. In his final tune-up Thursday he pitched four shutout innings against the Hurricanes. He did not give up a hit and struck out seven. He did struggle with his control with seven walks, but worked his way out of it each time.
The game was played at the Moriches Athletic Complex because Shoreham’s field was unplayable. The turf infield and artificial mound made for different conditions, which may have factored in to some of Sperruzzi’s control issues. Either way, it wasn’t anything that had Mignano worried.
“He’ll be fine,” he said.
Sperruzzi was originally slated to throw three innings against the Hurricanes, but after learning the playoffs had been pushed back to Tuesday because of all the rain-outs, Mignano figured he could give him an extra inning.
Senior Joe Buchner pitched the final three innings. He gave up the lone hit of the game for Westhampton, a little flare into shallow right field that fell into no-man’s land in the fifth inning.
Shoreham pounded out seven runs in the second inning to quickly take away any of the drama. Before the Wildcats batted in the fourth inning, Mignano substituted nearly the entire lineup to give some of his bench players at-bats.
Junior Will Andrews even got some time behind the plate. The Wildcats have such depth at catcher, Andrews ends up fourth on the depth chart. Junior Jonathan Criscito started the game. Matt Kneisel is also a catcher, but hasn’t been behind the plate to not put any extra strain on his shoulder that required surgery last summer. Kneisel was the designated hitter against the Hurricanes and was 2 for 2 with two RBIs and a walk. Freshman Nick Bottari is also a catcher, but plays mostly first base this season. He walked and scored a run.
Senior Ryan McAlary scored three runs and hit an RBI double in the second. Left fielder Mike O’Reilly had a pair of RBIs. O’Reilly’s been terrific on the mound this season with an 8-0 record. McAlary will start the final game against Westhampton tomorrow.
“We may rest a couple [players] tomorrow,” Mignano said. “A couple guys got some tweaks and stuff. Be ready for Tuesday.”