On a normal day, a pitcher throwing balls in the dirt would seem to be a bad thing. But the way junior Brian Kavanagh was dealing for East Meadow, that was exactly the plan.
With a fastball topping out in the mid-80s, Kavanagh’s low breaking balls proved to be the perfect out pitch April 10 in the Conference AA-II baseball series finale against Baldwin. He struck out nine Bruins on the way to a no-hitter, the Jets’ first since 2009, in a 7-0 victory.
“He was throwing about 84 miles an hour and his breaking ball was unhittable,” coach Ken Sicoli said.
While batters had trouble locating the breaking ball, senior catcher Jonny Keicher was all over every swing and miss that ended up low. He secured the game’s final two putouts on throws to first base following a strikeout. “He blocks everything,” Sicoli said. “He’s a great defensive player and the pitchers have confidence [he’ll get the ball] if they throw it in the dirt.”
The only batter to reach base was via a hit by pitch in the sixth inning, and sophomore third baseman Zach Fritz turned in the game’s lone web gem by bare-handing a slow roller down the line in the first inning and throwing the runner out at first.
As much as Kavanagh’s gem was an exclamation point, the Jets’ offense sure made some marks of its own, banging out 27 combined hits in the first two games of the series, winning by scores of 10-7 on Apr. 9, and 6-5 two days earlier. The offense was a little slow to arrive in the opener of the three-game set, with Baldwin starter Nick Arellano keeping East Meadow (7-1 overall, 3-0 in Conference AA-II) off the scoreboard through five innings as the Bruins opened up a five-run lead.
After breaking through for a single run in the sixth, the Jets erupted for five more in their last at bat on the strength of four singles, a walk and a two-run triple by Fritz. Junior first baseman Louie Cuello plated the go-ahead run with a single in the hole between shortstop and third base scoring sophomore pinch runner Marcus Kabigting. It was the second time this season East Meadow had come back from a deficit of at least five runs. The team knocked off Calhoun, 13-12, on Apr. 2, after trailing by 10 runs after two innings.
“Right now they’re just fun to watch,” Sicoli said. “The kids are working hard and things look good so far. For young kids to be down 10-0 against Calhoun and 5-0 against Baldwin in the sixth inning and then come back and win [is amazing].”
Kavanagh, the staff ace, has been pitching the finale of each series, with hard-throwing sophomore Joey Miucci (2-1 record) facing most opposing No. 1 starters. Cuello (2-0) may not throw as hard as Kavanagh and Minucci, but he does have a knack for keeping opposing hitters off –balance with his breaking ball and works all of his pitches in the strike zone. Junior Brett Bennett has assumed the closer role and pounds the strike zone with his fastball.
As the Jets proved against Baldwin by scoring a combined 24 runs over three games, scoring opportunities can come from anywhere in the lineup. Junior Billy Thomas is hitting .500 through eight games, while Keicher and junior Ryan Bergmann are both hovering around that same lofty mark. “The whole team is hitting the ball,” Sicoli said. “They’re taking nice swings. [Almost everyone] is hitting between .340 and .380.
“They all have nice numbers. We have a few extra base hits, a couple of triples, but basically it’s been a lot of singles and doubles. Right now it’s been a lot of base hits and the kids all run well.”