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Baseball: SWR’s Steele wins award for Suffolk’s top pitcher

A future pitcher can be found just about anywhere. Even behind home plate.

Only three years ago, Billy Steele was a catcher for Shoreham-Wading River. Now he is recognized as the most outstanding high school pitcher in Suffolk County. That honor was bestowed upon Steele Monday night when he was announced as the Paul Gibson Award recipient during the Suffolk County Baseball Coaches Association’s all-county awards dinner at Villa Lombardi’s in Holbrook.

Steele became only the second SWR pitcher to win the award. Chip Pidgeon received the first Paul Gibson Award in 1997, said SWR coach Kevin Willi.

“It means a lot to me,” said Steele, a senior who will play for the United States Military Academy. “I worked hard for it. I started pitching like last year, so I really had to work hard for everything, but yes, it’s a nice individual achievement.”

Steele’s 2022 statistics are astounding. The righthander didn’t allow an earned run in the regular season, during which he recorded 83 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings. He hurled a no-hitter against Elwood/John Glenn with the aid of 14 strikeouts and using only 73 pitches.

It was one of the greatest regular seasons ever turned in by a SWR pitcher. Steele was touched for only one unearned run while giving up 10 hits and 16 walks. His WHIP was .600 and batters hit a meager .065 against him. Including the playoffs, Steele finished the season with a 7-1 record and 0.58 ERA.

Willi said Steele’s fastball has reached 92 mph, and he had good sliders and changeups to complement the heat.

Though disappointed that League VII champion SWR (17-4) fell short of the Suffolk Class A finals, Steele could take satisfaction in the season he had.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Billy Steele (7-1, 0.58 ERA) didn’t allow an earned run during the regular season. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“I could definitely appreciate it, especially when I finished the [regular] season with a zero ERA,” he said. “That was a goal of mine since like halfway through the season, to pitch with a zero ERA, and I was able to do that. There were a couple of close calls, but our defense saved me a couple of times.”

Willi said Steele “was a prospect behind the plate, and then he transitioned to pitching. And to go from a field player who has never pitched before to a pitcher who won the Paul Gibson Award, I mean, that says a lot about his ability, his willingness to learn the position and his growth as a baseball player.”

Steele had been a catcher with a good arm. One day in practice in March of 2020, he took the mound and fired mid-80s fastballs. That caught the eyes of coaches.

“I was like, ‘Oh wow. We might have a pitcher on our hands,’ ” Willi said. “That was the beginning of something amazing.”

The 2020 season wasn’t played because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Steele said he remained a lefthanded-hitting catcher that summer, but didn’t hit well and tried out pitching that fall. His transition from catcher to pitcher was complete his junior year.

Steele isn’t a player who can just pitch. He’s also quite a hitter. This past season he batted .374 with an 1.117 OPS and 21 RBIs in 21 games.

As interesting as Steele’s path from home plate to the pitching mound has been, Willi finds something else about his star pitcher intriguing.

“The funny thing about Billy is it’s been four years coaching him and I can never really figure out what he’s thinking,” Willi said. “He’s a good kid. He would be a very tough guy to play poker with because you never know where he’s coming from. A lot of high school kids wear their emotions on their sleeve, and Billy, not that he’s bluffing or anything, but he’s got his poker face on all the time.”

Steele, who will leave June 26 for West Point for basic training, said he loved catching back in the day, but is happy with his new life as a pitcher.

“Yes, definitely,” he said. “I like pitching a lot better. Catching, hitting is just not for me. Catching once people start throwing a lot harder is not fun. It’s getting beat up.”