Like the other seven teams in the New York State Little League All-Star Tournament, Riverhead had high hopes when play began for the 11-12-year-old baseball players. And then a curveball was thrown their way.
Or, make that a bunch of curveballs.
The person throwing most of those curveballs, Massapequa Coast’s Frank Kelly, perplexed Riverhead batters with his off-speed stuff. As if that wasn’t enough, he changed the outlook of the game with a three-run home run, sending Riverhead to a 4-0 defeat Tuesday at the Anthony Amarosa Baseball Complex in the Bronx.
“The better the pitchers get, the more pitches they have, so you’re going to have to expect it when you get this far,” said Riverhead shortstop K.J. Duff.
Kelly and reliever Michael Vilardi held Riverhead to only three hits. Kelly exited after throwing 70 pitches in 4 2/3 innings. The righthander struck out nine, gave up two hits and walked one. Altogether, Riverhead struck out 12 times.
A prime example of how effective his curveball was came when he struck out David Raynor on three straight curveballs — all on corners of the plate. Nasty stuff.
“What set him apart was he was throwing the curveball for strikes,” said Riverhead coach Mike Mowdy, whose team is 10-1. “He was a good pitcher.”
And not a bad hitter, either.
It was Kelly’s blast to leftfield in the fifth inning that turned a 1-0 game into a 4-0 game. A pinch-hit single by George Adams and a two-out walk by Nick Le-Vien put runners on the corners for Kelly, who changed the game with one swing at a fastball.
Kelly had grounded out and popped up to the pitcher in his first two at-bats, so when Kelly stepped into the batter’s box a third time, Mowdy contemplated walking him intentionally.
“Now I’m kicking myself because I was thinking there were men on second and third, two outs,” Mowdy said. “I knew that was the best hitter on the team and I was thinking about walking him to load the bases with two outs, but hindsight is 20-20.”
Mike Mowdy, the coach’s son, went the distance for Riverhead. The only run he allowed to that point came from back-to-back singles by Paul Dulanto and Vilardi in the second. Mowdy allowed six hits and one walk, striking out four over his 80-pitch performance.
Riverhead’s three hits came on singles from the first three batters in the order: Duff, Mowdy and Connor Saville.
“We didn’t hit,” said Saville.
Riverhead relies heavily on pitching, defense and timely hitting. Putting up runs in bunches isn’t the team’s modus operandi.
“That’s our formula: keep it close then win it late,” Coach Mowdy said. “I thought Mike pitched a great game. He had us in the game the whole time, but we’re not going to win many games with three hits.”
With the loss in the double-elimination tournament, Riverhead drops into the loser’s bracket, and is to play New City Wednesday afternoon.
“I think we all want to keep playing,” Saville said, “and if we win, we get to keep playing.”
Coach Mowdy smiled at the notion that this is all gravy, being one of eight teams in the state still playing.
“I’m so proud of them,” he said. “We’re so happy to be here, playing in the state tournament with eight teams left. We came so much further than what we were expected to.”
If some curveballs are thrown along the way, so be it.
Photo caption: Riverhead players pump themselves up during the pregame introductions. (Credit: Bob Liepa)