Baseball: Riverhead pair has playoffs on their mind

Baseball has been good to Scott Thompson and Darnell Chandler. The two Riverhead High School seniors will move on to play at the NCAA Division II level, but before they do so, they have some unfinished business as Blue Waves.

The pair sees Riverhead as a playoff team and then some.

“I feel that we’re more than a playoff team,” Thompson said in an interview after Friday’s practice. “I honestly feel that [this] is the most talented group of guys that I’ve played with. Everybody is at least, at minimum, 12 guys that can play above-average baseball, and then we have solid guys throughout the team. So, I believe we have a legitimate chance to make a run.”

Of course, Thompson and Chandler would have a lot to do with that. They are both known throughout Suffolk County League III and will bat in the middle of Riverhead’s order.

“We’re going to lean on them,” coach Rob Maccone said. “They’re our guys.”

The lefthanded Thompson, who is headed for Adelphi University, is a pitcher and first baseman. He was an All-League player last year with a .295 batting average and nine RBIs. As a pitcher, he went 2-3 with a 1.80 earned run average.

“I hold myself to a high standard, so even though I did pretty decent, got All-League, I felt that I kind of underperformed for myself,” he said.

That sense might have had something to do with Thompson working himself into what he said is the best shape of his baseball life.

“My work ethic increased over the offseason so I converted fat to muscle and I got in better shape,” he said. “This is the best shape that I’ve been in ever since playing baseball.”

The 6-3 Chandler, who will bring his talents to St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, N.Y., pitches and can also play in the outfield or first base. He throws lefthanded and bats righty. Last season he hit .290 with five RBIs and posted a 1-1 pitching record with a 2.50 ERA.

“I could have done a lot better,” he said. “I think this year I’m going to be 10 times better than I was. I think I still have the same mentality that I’ve always had. I still play hard every time.”

Both players got a taste of the playoffs as freshmen in 2015, the last time Riverhead reached the playoffs, and they want to return.

They recall the rough 2016 season, when the team went 4-16. “That one was rough,” said Thompson.

Riverhead made strides last year, going 8-12. The Blue Waves suffered one-run losses in their final two games (one in nine innings) and failed to qualify for the playoffs by one game. It was definite improvement from the previous year, though.

“Last year, it’s like a shark when it smells the blood and it gets going,” Thompson said. “You smell the playoffs, and now this year we’re going to go get it.”

Thompson and Chandler aren’t alone. “We have a lot of seniors and a lot of seniors with experience,” said Maccone, mentioning three-year varsity players like Tommy Powers, Ryan Lull and Chris Jehle as well as Nick Dejewski, a junior who led the team with a .421 batting average.

This is an exciting time of the year for Thompson. “It’s like Christmas morning, but every day,” he said.

What would he like to achieve this year?

“A county championship,” he answered. “Championship or bust. We have that type of squad. I believe in this squad.”

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Photo caption: Riverhead seniors Scott Thompson, left, and Darnell Chandler have high expectations for the Blue Waves this year. (Credit: Bob Liepa)