A senior-laden baseball team primed for the playoffs, the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats have a lot of things going for them. When they’re on, their fielding is sharp and their hitting is prodigious.
And then there is the O’Reilly factor.
That is O’Reilly, as in Mike O’Reilly.
O’Reilly has been automatic for the Wildcats this season, winning all nine of his decisions. With an earned run average of around 1.50, the junior has registered 75 strikeouts in 47 innings.
That’s not bad for a team’s No. 2 pitcher.
Yes. Dan Sperruzzi, a senior who is headed to Hartford on a baseball scholarship, is the first pitcher in the rotation, “and [Ryan] McAlary is no slouch, either,” noted catcher Jono Criscito.
In his most recent outing on Friday, O’Reilly used both his strong right arm and his bat to lead the second-seeded Wildcats to their second playoff win, 6-2, over the No. 3 Elwood/John Glenn Knights in the Suffolk County Class A Tournament. Shoreham improved to 17-5 while John Glenn dropped to 17-5 with its first playoff loss.
Boosted by O’Reilly’s two-hitter and three singles at Kevin Williams Memorial Field in Shoreham, the Wildcats kept themselves in the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
O’Reilly had a no-hitter going before Logan Allen sprayed a one-out single to left field in the fifth inning. Shoreham fans applauded O’Reilly for his effort.
What went through O’Reilly’s mind after giving up the first hit?
“I tried to clear my head for the next batter,” he said.
Two batters later, O’Reilly gave up the second hit, a two-run double by Scott Kunz.
“Outstanding,” Criscito said. “For five innings he pitched the best I’ve seen for a while.”
O’Reilly had nine strikeouts (four on called third strikes), issued three walks and hit three batters. One unfortunate batter, Kunz, was struck in the back of his batting helmet in the first inning. After being checked out, he trotted to first base.
Showing good command of his fastballs, curveballs and changeups, O’Reilly threw 104 pitches, 64 for strikes.
“He’s a tough pitcher,” John Glenn Coach Stephen Robins said. “I tip my cap. A good player beat us today.”
O’Reilly was aware that he had a no-hitter in progress.
“You always know it, but it’s not the first thing in your head,” he said. “The defense was good behind me the whole game so I knew I could throw it over the plate and they would make the play behind me.”
Shoreham Coach Sal Mignano acknowledged that having a No. 2 pitcher with a 9-0 record is a luxury most teams don’t have.
“He’s been our best pitcher all year,” Mignano said. “He’s got a good fastball, but his definitive pitch is his breaking pitch. He’s got a nasty, nasty curveball.”
Tell the Knights about it.
Shoreham collected seven of its 12 hits in the fourth when it struck for the game’s first five runs. The first six Wildcats to step into the batter’s box that inning produced hits: O’Reilly drilled a single. Sperruzzi doubled home a run. Danny Luppens dropped down a bunt single. Croscito singled in a run. Steve Schneider delivered a sharp single. Kevin Davis drove a run-scoring double to the right-field fence.
McAlary had a sacrifice fly during the rally after Schneider scored from third base on a wild pitch.
Criscito made it 6-2 when he led off the bottom of the sixth by taking an 0-1 pitch deep over the right-field fence. It was his second home run of the season.
It was just that kind of a day for Shoreham that even one of its outs was memorable. After John Glenn’s starting pitcher, Allen, got an 0-2 count on Andrew Nicchi, the Shoreham batter fouled off 10 pitches before belting a well-struck ball that left fielder John Pierson caught.
With the win, Shoreham, which last won a county title in 2002, made its life easier. The Wildcats know that in a double-elimination tournament, the shortest — and easiest — path to the title is through the winner’s bracket.
“We’re as strong as anybody,” O’Reilly said. “I feel pretty confident.”