WILDCATS 11, MUSTANGS 3
After posting a 9-0 record on the mound last year, there was little doubt Shoreham-Wading River senior Mike O’Reilly would begin this season as the team’s ace.
In three starts, including Monday’s 11-3 victory over Mount Sinai, O’Reilly has picked up right where he left off with an unbeaten record.
But aside from leading the pitching staff, O’Reilly entered the season with another hefty responsibility — protecting the Wildcats’ No. 3 hitter, the sweet-swinging sophomore Nick Bottari.
“With him hitting behind Bottari, that’s real, real important for us,” said Shoreham coach Sal Mignano. “When planning a strategy of what kind of order to use, I knew we had to protect Bottari.”
Batting in the cleanup spot, O’Reilly has more than protected Bottari, he’s made it flat out dangerous to pitch around him. O’Reilly is hitting over .600 through the team’s first six games with the Wildcats going 5-1.
Against the Mustangs he went 3-for-3 with a home run, double, 3 RBIs, two runs and a pair of walks. All while earning the victory on the mound with six superb innings at Mount Sinai High School.
Bottari did his job preceding O’Reilly with three hits, an RBI and three runs scored.
“Nick’s as good a hitter as I’ve seen,” O’Reilly said. “So it’s important to have someone behind him. Coach wanted me to hit behind him then I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
Bottari and O’Reilly sparked a six-run fifth inning for the Wildcats after the Mustangs scored their first run in the previous inning that cut the lead to 2-1.
Bottari singled over the third base bag, O’Reilly walked and both runners advanced on a wild pitch with Dan Luppens at the plate. Luppens then singled to left field past the drawn-in infield to make it 4-1.
It was all Shoreham from there. They added four more in the inning and O’Reilly delivered the biggest blow in the next inning. On a 2-1 pitch he crushed a fastball over the left-center fence into someone’s backyard for his second long ball of the year.
“I knew it had a good shot but I thought maybe the wind would hold it up,” O’Reilly said. “But it seemed to get through there pretty good.”
In the Wildcats’ only loss so far this season, against Bayport-Blue Point, they trailed in the top of the seventh with a runner on first and Bottari at the plate. On a 3-1 pitch, Bottari saw a curve ball, which missed, sending him to first base.
O’Reilly followed and blasted a ground-rule double over the center field fence.
“I don’t know if we play them again if [Bayport will] do that,” Mignano said. “Nick is definitely being benefited by Mike hitting behind him.”
O’Reilly dominated on the mound, mixing in his upper 80s fastball with a nasty curve ball. He struck out seven and scattered four hits, all of which were singles. He did not walk a batter.
Mignano said O’Reilly’s curve ball has been more consistent this season.
“His command of everything is much better,” he said.
O’Reilly’s improvement as a player from his sophomore year could be largely attributed to his work in the offseason. He trains at All-Pro Sports Academy, Infinity Sports Performance and Major League Instruction all in addition to playing baseball in summer leagues.
“It just all kind of came together for me as I grew and kept getting stronger,” O’Reilly said.
Mignano said O’Reilly has now turned into a complete player who can contribute in so many ways. On his pitching off days, he can play either shortstop, third base or be the designated hitter.
While the Wildcats lost a huge core of last year’s county championship team, the new players have mixed in with the returnees to quickly create a new identity.
“I said to them before the season, our reign as the county champion is over,” Mignano said. “We have four starters back, but you have to develop your own identity. Last year I had a set lineup one through nine. This year I don’t.”
While the lineup may vary from game to game, it’ll take a lot to alter the three-four-five hitters. Against Mount Sinai (3-3 League VII) Monday the trio combined for nine hits in 12 at-bats.
The Wildcats, who are already 2-0 against Mount Sinai, will play the Mustangs Thursday back at Shoreham. The series concludes Friday with another game at Mount Sinai.