Baseball Preview: Pitching the key to success

Riverhead senior Cody Smith returns at catcher this season in his third year on varsity. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

For nearly a third of Riverhead’s games last season, towering lefty Matt Crohan mowed through opposing lineups with seemingly effortless ease. Crohan went on to become the first Riverhead baseball player to win the Carl Yastrzemski Award as the top player in the county.

Now a year later, with Crohan pitching in college at Winthrop University, the Blue Waves are left to rebuild their pitching rotation. In a season where nearly all their position players are returning, the Blue Waves’ biggest question mark centers around the pitching staff. 

“This year is going to be one of those years where we’re going to have a lot of guys in relief, some guys are going to throw multiple times in a week,” said Riverhead coach Rob Maccone. “We might start a game on Tuesday, throw a kid three or four innings, then bring him back on Friday and let him throw an inning or two.”

The mixing and matching of the rotation figures to at least start with returners Josh Brewster and Ryan Gaffney. Both players can play multiple positions and should see plenty of time on the mound.

Brewster was a starter in the rotation last year.

“[He’s] a big piece to the puzzle,” Maccone said.

Gaffney is a lefty who also brings a big bat to the lineup. Gaffney was among the team leaders in home runs and RBIs last year, Maccone said. He can play center field and pitch.

After Brewster and Gaffney, there’s not much pitching-wise in terms of varsity experience.

One player who could have contributed, junior John Wendt, is injured to start the season.

“We have about five other kids that are going to help us out, but we don’t really have a true rotation,” Maccone said.

The Blue Waves can count on a strong nucleus returning in the field, led by four-year varsity player Jesse Patriss. As a freshman, Patriss came up to varsity to fill a void in right field. As a sophomore he moved to shortstop, where he’s continued to play leading into this season.

Patriss will bat leadoff for Riverhead.

“It’s a nice culmination to have him for four years,” Maccone said. “He gets on base, he can steal bases. He drives balls to the gap, solid defensively.”

Maccone said Patriss has always been a standout defensive player. Now that he’s gotten older, his bat has continued to improve as well. Last year he batted about .387, Maccone said.

Patriss is planning to attend Suffolk Community College to play baseball for two years, Maccone said, and is one of six current players who plan to play baseball in college.

Senior Cody Smith returns at catcher for Riverhead and will be in his third year on varsity. Maccone said Smith is one of the top defensive catchers that have come through the program in recent years. Smith helps out the pitchers with his ability to block balls in the dirt and he also has a strong arm to throw out runners attempting to steal.

Senior Brian Brenton returns in the outfield and is another three-year varsity starter. Maccone expects Brenton to bat in the middle of the lineup.

The Blue Waves came up short of the playoffs last year and have been on the cusp for the past two years. Reaching that goal won’t be easy in a competitive league that features stiff competition in the form of Half Hollow Hills West, Hauppauge and East Islip.

“Our league has been getting better and better each year,” Maccone said.

Riverhead opens the season with five non-league games, starting Tuesday against Kings Park. The league season kicks off April 8 at Hills West.

John Montesano will be part of a deep pitching staff for Shoreham-Wading River this year. (Credit: Robert O'Rourk)
John Montesano will be part of a deep pitching staff for Shoreham-Wading River this year. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

At Shoreham-Wading River, questions persist as well into the pitching staff. The Wildcats have plenty of depth but no clear-cut No. 1 to anchor the rotation.

That’s created plenty of competition for spots. The Wildcats have at least five pitchers who are vying for a starting position and even more depth beyond them.

Longtime coach Sal Mignano admitted it’s a bit unusual for his team to not have a set rotation by this point.

“Most years I’ve coached I’ve had if not three, two guys decided upon already,” he said. “It’s kind of up in the air right now but it’s a good thing because it’s good, healthy competition amongst each other. Whoever pitches the best, pitches.”

The Wildcats do return a strong core from last year’s team as they try to reach the playoffs for a 29th straight season.

“It’s a real dedicated group,” Mignano said. “No superstar kind of thing, where everybody’s doing what they have to do to make us better.”

Returning in the middle of the lineup is third baseman Tyler Osik. Mignano said he’ll bat either third or fourth.

“He’s in the best shape he’s ever been in,” Mignano said. “He’s quicker, faster, leaner. He’s worked real hard to get that way.”

Osik plans to sign with Coker College in South Carolina to play baseball next year, Mignano said.

Catcher Jack Massa returns for his third year on varsity. Mignano said Massa will likely start the season batting behind fifth.

“When he was a sophomore, he played a lot,” Mignano said. “He’s got a lot of innings under his belt.”

Senior Chris Moran will start in center field. He switched from the infield to the outfield last season and was an All-League player. He’ll pitch some as well.

Osik, Massa and Moran are all captains this year. Massa plans to play baseball at SUNY/Oswego and Moran is planning to play at SUNY/New Paltz.

At shortstop, the Wildcats will rely on a freshman, Brian Morrell. He started last year as an eighth-grader and proved he belonged, batting a little over .300. He can also pitch.

“His skills are now more refined, and he’s a little bigger, a little stronger,” Mignano said.

At second base the Wildcats return an All-League player in Kyle Pendergast. He’ll also play in the outfield and can pitch. Mignano said Pendergast is the fastest player on the team.

At first base there’s a competition for the starting job. Adam Piotrowski, John Montesano and Brandon Busch are all in the hunt. Montesano will pitch as well and play the outfield.

The Wildcats got a transfer into the program in Matt Fox, a versatile infielder/pitcher who can play a number of positions.

Zach Parilla, who was All-League last year, will play right field.

The competition in league this year will be even tougher with the addition of Miller Place, which played in the county finals last year. Miller Place replaces Amityville, a perennial bottom-feeder.

The Wildcats will play each team in traditional three-game series instead of facing each team four times like last year. In a six-team league, that means they’ll play 15 league games, which is fewer than normal. It takes eight league wins to make the playoffs.

Shoreham opens the season with five non-league games before the league season starts April 8.

At Bishop McGann-Mercy, first-year coach Skip Gehring had an early message for his players: prepare to play multiple positions.

Versatility is something Gehring is keying on. That means for infielders, learning to play an outfield position and vice versa.

“I flat out told the guys that if you’re only playing one position, you’re not going to help us out this year,” he said. “It’s a lot of interchangeable spots.”

The Monarchs will hope that versatility helps propel them back into the playoffs. The Monarchs return a decent core of last year’s team as well some additions from the junior varsity.

Seniors Pat Marelli, Kurt Bahnke and junior Marco Pascale are among the key returnees for the Monarchs.

Marelli will anchor the pitching rotation. He throws a fastball, change-up and curveball. Pascale is sliding over to third base this year after playing shortstop a year ago. Bahnke will play short.

Greg Gehring, the coach’s son, will play catcher. He played on varsity last year as a freshman.

Coaching his son presents its challenges, but Skip Gehring said he’s been doing it for a long time now.

“Going back to travel baseball, AAU basketball, we’ve been kind of working together for a lot of years,” he said.

Behind Marelli on the mound, the Monarchs will rely on a sophomore and freshman to fill out the rotation.

Scott Arturi will see time on the mound as well as in the outfield.

Jasper Bradley, who played JV last year, will play center field. Senior Paul Annunziata plays the outfield and Colin Ratsey will play first base.

The Monarchs open the season Friday with a non-league game against Pierson. Mercy will compete in League VII this year.

“I honestly believe with the drive, determination, the attitude, we’re a playoff team this year,” Gehring said. “The kids are really determined.”

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