Sam Ilario shows off natural talent for West Islip baseball

West Islip's Sam Ilario poses before a game West Islip's Sam Ilario poses before a game against Centereach on Friday Apri 25, 2014. Photo Credit: Richard T. Slattery

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After he suffered a broken wrist during the football season, few expected West Islip's Sam Ilario to be playing baseball.

But here he is, batting .543 and ready to lead the Lions into the Suffolk playoffs.

"I mean, I'm definitely kind of surprised myself," Ilario said. "It's been a blessing. My swing kind of came back naturally. It's like riding a bike. You just don't forget."

Check out these numbers: 10-for-11, a solo homer, two doubles and three RBIs. Ilario did that as the Lions won two out of three against North Babylon April 9-11. He also had a walk-off double in West Islip's 3-2 non-league win over Half Hollow Hills East on April 16, the start of an eight-game winning streak.

"In big spots, people don't pitch to him," West Islip coach Shawn Rush said. "And he really doesn't care about stats. He only cares about helping the team win."

The speedy senior plays leftfield and rightfield. Rush believes he is an asset at the corner positions because he covers so much ground and can shade toward the gap in center with the range to get to balls hit close to the line.

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Ilario hasn't missed a step despite sitting out his junior season after breaking his ankle playing football the previous fall.

"It's just silly to think he'd be able to do this without any type of preparation in about 18 months," Rush said. "He's just a natural."

It has been quite a ride for Ilario, who wasn't sure he would be able to take the field this spring. Now he is a huge presence for West Islip (14-4), which finished second to Smithtown West (15-3) in League III. The Bulls' two wins over North Babylon and the Lions' two losses to Smithtown East in the final games of the season gave Smithtown West the league title.

"It's definitely overwhelming, but it's a blessing to finally be able to get back on the field," Ilario said. "Make the most of your opportunities because in a blink of an eye, it can be taken away from you. It comes down to you got to appreciate the game."

Ilario, whom Rush called a "modest leader by example," repeatedly has told his coach that he came back with one objective: to win a county title.

"He just wants to win something before he leaves," Rush said. "Leave a lasting impact and go for it all now."

To get to this point, Ilario got through rehab and thought about his brother Dylan, a 2012 West Islip graduate, who also battled injuries while playing football and lacrosse.

"It gave me more motivation to keep going, keep fighting," said Ilario, who bats and throws righthanded. "Something else to play for."

And Ilario, a quarterback, isn't done playing high school football, either. He is set to be part of the Empire Challenge All-Star Game in June.

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