Sam Kessler not only gets ahead of hitters. He uses his head.
“He’s got heart, guts and brains,” Mount Sinai coach Eric Reich enbach said.
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So even though the Mustangs’ senior righthander had overpowering stuff Monday, he needed some smarts at the end.
After he saw Miller Place’s Tyler Schrimpf get a good rip at a first-pitch fastball with two outs and two on in the top of the seventh, Kessler went to his slider for the next two pitches. The result was his 12th strikeout and a 2-1 victory for host Mount Sinai in the opener of a key three-game series in Suffolk VII. The Mustangs are 11-5; the Panthers are 10-6.
“He just missed that pitch,” Kessler said. “Then coach switched it up to the slider. I’m the puppet. Coach pulls the strings.”
Kessler avoided unraveling in the final inning by throwing two nasty, darting sliders to Schrimpf. He had struck out the first two batters in the seventh, but then gave up a single, one of six hits for Miller Place. An infield error brought up the Panthers’ leadoff hitter with a chance to do damage.
“The slider was working well. I was getting on top of it,” Kessler said. “I have confidence in all three of my pitches. I have a changeup, but today it was all fastballs and slider. This was the first game all year that I didn’t throw a changeup.”
Kessler helped his cause with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. In the third, Danny Deckert delivered a two-out RBI single for a 2-0 lead. The Mustangs nearly broke the game open right there, but Miller Place centerfielder Kevin Kelleher made a diving catch to rob Jake Golino of a two-run hit.
Miller Place scored its run in the fourth on a ringing double to left-center by Alex Ozol. “That was the only mistake Sam made,” Reichenbach said.
In raising his record to 5-2, Kessler displayed impeccable control. He did not walk a batter, which isn’t really surprising.
“He’s been like that all year,” Reichenbach said. “His strikeout to walk ratio is absurd. Something like 60-4. His earned-run average is less than one. That’s why he’s our No. 1 pitcher. He gets ahead. He goes after guys. He has command of his pitches. And when he gets ahead, his fastball and his slider have late movement.”
Kessler accepted a baseball scholarship to West Virginia and said the Mountaineers coaches told him his slider was a big reason they recruited him. He won’t need to take his bat to college, however, even though he is the No. 5 hitter in the Mount Sinai lineup. “I love hitting but next year that’s not an option,” he said with a grin. “They won’t let me near the bats.”