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Baseball: Mercy better positioned with pitching

The 2017 high school baseball season was like a bad-tasting medicine for Bishop McGann-Mercy. As distasteful as it was at times, the Monarchs knew that it would bring long-term benefits down the road.

Mercy was especially young, one of the youngest teams in Suffolk County. Coach Ed Meier and his players were realistic, though, and took the approach that it was good preparation for 2018.

So Mercy has emerged from a 4-16 season minus the three seniors from last year who graduated, but better positioned, it seems. Though still young, the Monarchs, who tangled last year with the likes of Mattituck, Southampton, Center Moriches and Babylon in League VIII, have been dropped down a league. That should translate into more wins.

“That’s more where we fit in, I believe,” Meier said. “That’s kind of the schools that we should be competing against.”

Altogether, it makes for what Meier believes to be a beneficial situation for Mercy. Also beneficial will be the pitching of Andrew Smith and Matt Chilicki, two righthanders who offer contrasting styles on the mound. While Smith is a power pitcher, Chilicki relies more on craftiness and placement.

Smith, a sophomore who has a fastball in the mid-80s to go with a curveball and circle changeup, said he had nerve and ligament issues with his pitching arm early last season but has recovered. He played in the outfield when not pitching.

“It’s been a long winter,” he said before taking turns with Chilicki, pitching off an artificial mound last week during an indoor practice. “I’ve been working out a lot compared to last year. My velocity’s gone up a lot and I’m just really excited for this year.”

This year things are going to be different for Smith.

“He’s asked to do a lot more,” Meier said. “He was out in leftfield for us last year. I think he has the speed and the athleticism to play center for us. He relieved a little bit, but mostly low-pressure scenarios, low-leverage scenarios and now we’re going to ask [him] to start, so it’s a drastic change and it will certainly test his maturity.”

Smith bats lefthanded and has an inviting rightfield fence at Mercy, a little under 300 feet from home plate. He batted second in the order last season and was second on the team with 21 RBIs. He put up a .381 batting average.

“In our park, you’re always a swing away from doing some damage in the short porch in right,” Meier said. He said Smith has “exceptional bat speed, one of the nicest swings I’ve seen here.”

Smith, who played for the Hampton Bays junior varsity team as an eighth-grader, said, “I like hitting home runs.”

Meier said Smith’s pitch selection in the batter’s box needs some work. “If he figures that out, he’s going to be very dangerous,” Meier said. “Everything’s there. It’s just — it’s easy to say, hard to do — swinging at the good ones, letting the bad ones go by. Hopefully it gets to the point where he just sees bad ones.”

That would mean pitchers wouldn’t want to pitch to him.

Meanwhile, Meier said Chilicki, a junior, has been looking good.

“Matt is a great pitcher’s pitcher,” Meier said. “If you want to come and see someone actually pitch, he’s your guy. He changes speeds well. He works both sides of the plate. He’ll pitch in reverse. He doesn’t overuse his breaking stuff like most guys do. He can really pitch.”

Chilicki was on the starting pitching staff and played shortstop last year. As a pitcher, he went 2-4 with a 2.78 earned run average and 29 strikeouts.

What was Chilicki’s mindset last year, going up against older, more experienced players? Well, he didn’t seem to pay it much mind at all.

“I didn’t really care who it was,” he said. “I just kept thinking: ‘Just keep pitching. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing. It doesn’t matter what size and what age.’ ”

Mercy also has players like Allan Zilnicki, Christian Shackel, Phil Marino, Ryan Razzano, Joe Marti, Sean Hinck and Chris Atkinson who are looking for good things in the upcoming season. They are hoping to see the benefits of enduring a difficult 2017.

“We’re just waiting for the snow to melt and getting back on the field,” Chilicki said. “Last year we didn’t have many people who played travel ball, but this year we have new arms, fresh arms and definitely more experience than last year.”

Now that’s good medicine.

Editor’s Note: This story was written prior to the announcement that Bishop McGann-Mercy High School would close at the end of the school year.

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Photo caption: Bishop McGann-Mercy junior Matt Chilicki working off an artificial pitching mound while assistant coach Cole Malsky observes. (Credit: Bob Liepa)