What is one to expect of a big high school baseball team, but big things?
That is surely the case with Shoreham-Wading River (19-6 last year).
For one thing, the Wildcats are physically big. “We’re a very large team,” coach Kevin Willi said. “I would say half of our guys are 6 foot or bigger with a couple of 200-pounders.”
It appears as if Shoreham has the talent to match that size, starting with its star pitcher/shortstop, Brian Morrell. The Notre Dame-bound senior last year won the Carl Yastrzemski Award, which is given to the top player in Suffolk County. He was only the fourth junior in 49 years to receive the award, according to Newsday.
Morrell is coming off an extraordinary junior season in which he went 5-1 with a 1.14 earned-run average. The all-state righthander had a 0.84 WHIP and allowed batters to hit only .138 against him while recording 94 strikeouts in 69 innings.
Morrell was a force at the plate, too, blasting a county-high 12 home runs to go with a .405 batting average and 28 runs batted in. Of his 30 hits, 17 went for extra bases.
In Shoreham’s first scrimmage, a handful of pro scouts were on hand to watch Morrell top out at 93 miles per hour against Longwood. In five scoreless innings, he allowed two hits and one walk, striking out five.
“He’s ready this year,” Willi said. “What I think is going to be really interesting is to see how teams face him. Having a Yastrzemski winner at the plate, are they going to walk him? Are they going to go at him?”
Shoreham, which is loaded with 16 seniors, has three other future college players in its lineup and is ranked second among Long Island small schools by Newsday. Thomas Brady, an all-county senior, will head to the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Brady started at second base as a sophomore, at third base as a junior (hitting .420 during the regular season with a team-high 30 hits and only one error in 25 games) and will start this season at catcher. “Catching is his main positIon and that’s what he’s going to play at the next level in college,” said Willi. Meanwhile, all-league senior first baseman Miles Kelly is headed for the College of Charleston in South Carolina and senior rightfielder Nick Manesis will play for Army.
Shoreham can also count on veterans like leftfielder Vincent Uzzi (.400, three homers in 12 games), second baseman Kyle Baylous, shortstop T.J. Sicoli, centerfielder Alex Bettenhauser and pitcher Tyler Pepper. They are all seniors.
More varsity experience is provided by four other seniors: pitcher/catcher Alex Angerman, third baseman John McCarrick, designated hitter Jon Luppens and first baseman/designated hitter Dean Stalzer.
Morrell will be joined in the starting rotation by two other righties, Ryan Mullahey and Pepper.
“We have the ultimate goal of winning the state championship, like every team,” Willi said, “but we have small goals to achieve along the way toward that championship.”
As its record suggests, Riverhead (4-16) had a lot of things to work on in preparation for this season.
“We couldn’t hit with guys on base,” coach Rob Maccone said. “We played sloppy defense and we couldn’t throw strikes, and [opponents] stole bases at an enormous rate.”
And by an “enormous rate” for stolen bases allowed, Maccone meant a 98-percent clip. “It has nothing to do with our catchers,” he said. “Our catchers didn’t do a bad job. Our pitchers weren’t holding guys on.”
Maccone said the Blue Waves have addressed all those issues heading into the new season.
D.J. Chandler, an all-league junior who plays the outfield and pitches, will bat third or fourth for the Blue Waves. He hit .305, with 14 RBIs. On the mound, he went 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA. Chandler is part of the starting pitching rotation along with senior Peter Panciocco and junior Scott Thompson (0-2, 3.25 ERA).
“He just does everything and that’s just something you don’t see very often,” Maccone said. “Whatever we ask, he does.”
Junior outfielder Tommy Powers (.305), junior shortstop Ryan Lull and senior catcher Justin Clement are key players.
Also returning are: pitcher/middle infielder Nick Dejewski, first baseman Cole Montefusco, pitcher/utility player Mike McCormack, pitcher/infielder A.J. Gallo, outfielder Dylan Galante, pitcher/outfielder Jared Polak and middle infielder Chris Jehle.
Jehle, a junior, broke a foot while skateboarding in October. After the break was repaired, it was discovered that some ankle ligaments were partially torn and he has been undergoing physical therapy since December, said Maccone.
Utility player Cole Devereaux, outfielder John Meehan and first baseman Joe Stimpfl are new additions.
“I think it’s going to be better than last year,” Maccone said. “We’re looking a lot better, but with that said, our league is very competitive.”
In League III, Riverhead will have to contend with co-champions Smithtown East and Smithtown West as well as Half Hollow Hills East, which has four players headed to NCAA Division I teams, said Maccone.
Maccone said his players are working to get better. He said, “At 4 and 16, there’s a lot of things to fix, but we’re trying to fix as many as we can.”
Bishop McGann-Mercy (3-15) will feature an unusual rotation this season. Coach Ed Meier said that for each game, one player will be brought up from the junior varsity team and given a start.
Call it early seasoning for a promising group of players on coach Jeff Doroski’s JV team.
“My focus is getting better every day and looking to improve with an eye really to the future for my younger ballplayers, giving them the reps to get ready for the future,” Meier said. “Those guys are talented.”
Sean Tuthill, a senior who hit close to .400 and led the team with 11 doubles, will play centerfield when he isn’t pitching. He is part of a starting rotation along with senior Matt Gambino and sophomore Matt Chilicki. Gambino also plays second base and Chilicki is a shortstop when he’s not pitching.
At catcher, Mercy has Matt Raynor, the only other one of the team’s three seniors. The starting nine will also include junior first baseman Allan Zilnicki, sophomore third baseman Sean Hinck and junior outfielder Christian Shackel.
Meanwhile, Mercy’s future looks bright with the players it has coming up through the ranks.
“This young group, they have potential,” Meier said. “They have a lot of potential.”
Photo caption: Carl Yastrzemski Award winner Brian Morrell headlines a Shoreham-Wading River team that could do big things in 2017. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)