Baseball: In return to mound, Woods dominant for Ospreys

Stephen Woods, a Half Hollow Hills East graduate, struck out eight batters in four innings Tuesday against Riverhead. (Credit: Bill Landon)
Stephen Woods, a Half Hollow Hills East graduate, struck out eight batters in four innings Tuesday against Riverhead. (Credit: Bill Landon)

For one of the top pitching prospects out of Long Island in recent years, Stephen Woods’ career on the mound has been remarkably brief.

It wasn’t until his junior year at Half Hollow Hills East High School that Woods turned to pitching full-time as a baseball player. He had been a third baseman and outfielder, winning a gold glove award at third as a sophomore and earning all-league honors. 

But in the back of his mind, he always knew pitching was his destiny.

“My dad always told me, ‘You’re going to be a pitcher,’ ” he said.

And a pitcher he’s become. On Tuesday, pitching for the North Fork Ospreys in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, Woods showed glimpses of why he was a sixth-round draft pick out of high school in 2013. Woods struck out eight batters in just four innings and gave up one unearned run against the Riverhead Tomcats at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton.

After Woods departed, the Tomcats’ bats went to work and Riverhead (14-14) snapped a four-losing streak with a 7-3 victory. The first-place Ospreys fell to 16-11 and saw their three-game winning streak snapped.

Woods was the 188th overall pick in 2013, selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in a slot that would have netted a hefty signing bonus. He opted to skip professional baseball for the time being and attend the University of Albany.

As a senior in high school, Woods struck out 100 batters in 50 innings while posting a 0.63 ERA. That success wasn’t quick to translate over to college. As a freshman this past spring, Woods struggled in the nine games he pitched. He started seven games and went 1-5 with 10.98 ERA. He gave up 37 earned runs in 30.1 innings.

“It was a lot of adjusting that needed to be done that I couldn’t do,” Woods said. “But that was freshman year. Now it’s a whole different ball game. It’s a big adjustment and now I’m adjusted.”

Woods’ path this summer originally had him ticketed for the prestigious Cape Cod League. But he said he wasn’t going to get the innings he needed to get his work in. So he ended up closer to his Dix Hills home in the HCBL.

“I got a coach that really takes care of his players and it’s a good working environment here,” Woods said.

“What he really wanted to do was make sure he gets his work in,” said North Fork manager Bill Ianniciello. “We try to give him a quality setting to do that. He’s going about his business the right way.”

Tuesday was the first game Woods has pitched since June 21 against Westhampton. Woods said he got hit in the back of the head on a line drive and he sat for two weeks as a precaution.

The coaches kept him on a limited pitch count for his first start back. He threw 64 pitches in his four innings.

He mixed in a dominant fastball with a curveball, cutter and change-up that had the Tomcats off balance. As an example, five of the batters he struck out were caught looking.

“People just don’t like to swing at the curveball,” Woods said.

Woods said his fastball averages around 91 to 93 mph. The highest he’s known to have hit on a gun is 96, he said.

Woods struck out Riverhead’s Mike Donadio twice Tuesday. Donadio came into the day leading the league in batting average. But Woods made him look mortal, getting him to chase a ball in the dirt his first at-bat for the strikeout. In the next at-bat, Woods froze Donadio on an outside corner fastball.

“Today was a very good outing for him,” Ianniciello said. “He made some really good pitches in the right spot.”

Donadio got some payback later in the game when Woods exited. Donadio lined a two-run double to right-center in the fifth inning. The Tomcats scored four runs in the inning to take a 5-1 lead.

Woods said the biggest thing he’s working on this summer is his release point.

“I had a high release point and I got it done today,” he said.

With a renewed confidence from the summer, Woods is already amped for next season at Albany.

“Game on,” he said. “Nothing’s more exciting than going into a season fresh and putting aside the season I had last year, good or bad.”

If all goes well, Woods would be primed to pitch in the Cape Cod League next summer. He would be draft eligible again following his junior season in 2016.

Matt Loutzenhiser, a Colorado native, earned the win Tuesday against the Ospreys, pitching six innings of relief. He gave up 2 runs (1 earned) and lowered his ERA to 2.31 this summer. He came in relief of starter Garrett Woofter, a Florida native, who was hit a by a liner in the top of the fourth inning.

Tomcats designated hitter Hunter Dolshun drove in three runs. He hit a two-run single in the fifth.

The Tomcats scored twice in the seventh to go ahead 7-1. The Ospreys got two back in the eighth but couldn’t get any closer.

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