Baseball: Facing elimination, Wildcats’ poise keeps them alive

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Dan Luppens hit a solo home run to lead off the second inning Tuesday.


Through the roller coaster of emotions that comes with a double elimination playoff tournament, the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats have managed to maintain a coolness under pressure that has come to be their identity.

Great play or an error, base hit or strikeout, the Wildcats never get too high or too low.

“I said to them before the playoffs, my time to teach you and coach you is during the season,” said Shoreham coach Sal Mignano. “Just go play now. Playoffs to me is about just going to play.”

It was with that calm demeanor the Wildcats approached a second straight elimination game Tuesday afternoon. With Bayport-Blue Point on the verge of clinching a county title on its home field, the Wildcats executed a nearly flawless game to win 6-0 and extend their season at least one more day.

The Wildcats (19-5) rode the right arm of senior Mike O’Reilly to set up one decisive game for the Class A county title Wednesday afternoon back at Shoreham.

“I felt comfortable, confident coming into today that we were going to give a good effort and if it was good enough to win, it was good enough to win,” Mignano said. “If it wasn’t we were going to be beat by a good team, but not by ourselves.”

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O’Reilly, whose only two losses in his varsity career have come against Bayport this season, dialed up one of the best performances of the season on the mound when his team needed him most.

He struck out 12 in a complete game three-hitter.

“I felt great,” O’Reilly said. “This mound is like pitching off Mount Everest so it’s like you’re throwing 100 miles per hour.”

O’Reilly overwhelmed Bayport’s lineup with a steady mix of fastballs and curve balls, plus a few change-ups. The Phantoms had consecutive two-out singles in the second inning to get runners on the corners. It was the only time Bayport got a runner to third base all game. O’Reilly struck out the next batter to end the inning.

Bayport (18-5) won 4-2 in the semifinals of the winner’s bracket last week to hand Shoreham its first loss. O’Reilly gave up a three-run home run in the first inning on a questionable ball that was close to being foul. He dominated from then on and has now thrown 12 straight scoreless innings against Bayport in the playoffs.

Given another chance against the Phantoms, O’Reilly didn’t disappoint.

“I was determined to go out there and put out a shutout,” O’Reilly said.

Mignano credited Bayport’s batters for working the count and forcing O’Reilly to throw a lot of pitches to get the strikeouts.

“It’s not like he breezed the whole way,” Mignano said.

Senior right fielder Dan Luppens put the Wildcats ahead 1-0 when he hit a leadoff home run to left field off Bayport sophomore Jack Piekos. They held a one-run lead until they tacked on another run in the fifth when pinch hitter Jack Massa executed a suicide squeeze to score the runner from third.

Massa pinch hit for second baseman Pat Steinbrecher, who came back in the seventh to hit a clutch two-out RBI double into left field to make it 3-0. He not only got a run home, but the extended the inning so three batters later O’Reilly could smoke a bases-clearing double to blow the game open. O’Reilly was 2-for-4 in the game.

“The entire at-bat I was looking for a pitch inside,” Steinbrecher said. “For me it was a nice soft curve ball inside and it was my pitch. I was trying to go the other way, but I can’t complain.”

Steinbrecher, a senior, has relished the opportunity in the playoffs this year. He suffered a freak ankle injury earlier in the year that forced him to miss over a month.

The injury happened during warmups before one of Shoreham’s games against Bayport.

“I was shagging fly balls and I stepped on a girls lacrosse ball,” he said. “So it’s nice to get back out there.”

Bayport elected not to throw ace Mike Farley, who’s undefeated this year and 2-0 against Shoreham. He will now go Wednesday. The Long Island championship is June 5, so Farley would still be on full rest for that game if the Phantoms were to win Wednesday.

Shoreham will turn to Mike DeVito on three days rest Wednesday. DeVito won a 2-1, 9-inning game against Sayville Saturday.

Mignano said they came into Tuesday’s game prepared to face either Farley or Piekos.

Shoreham first baseman Nick Bottari was 2-for-4. The Wildcats executed three sacrifice bunts in the game and turned a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.

Wednesday’s game will be the seventh of the season between the two teams. Both have won three.

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