Aaron Gagliano will look back at his senior year of high school baseball and thank Connetquot teammate Brandon Morse.
Opposing pitchers were so fearful of Morse's gap-to-gap power and home run potential that they frequently and conveniently chose to pitch around the cleanup hitter and go after the next batter. That's where Gagliano, the No. 5 hitter, made a name for himself.
Gagliano, who led Suffolk with a .565 batting average, drove in 34 runs and scored 31 runs this season. He drove in an incredible 23 runs with two-out hits.
That's how Gagliano earned himself the Blue Chip Prospects Silver Slugger Award, presented to Suffolk's best hitter, an honor that was announced Wednesday night at the Suffolk County Baseball Coaches Association dinner at Villa Lombardi's in Holbrook.
"He had an unbelievable knack for hitting with two outs," Connetquot coach Bob Ambrosini said. "Pitchers didn't pitch to Brandon and went after Aaron. And he made them pay."
Gagliano had seven game-winning hits as Connetquot (24-4) captured the Long Island Class AA title. The Thunderbirds will play in a state semifinal this weekend in Binghamton.
"I know people pitch around Brandon and for good reason; he's a great hitter," Gagliano said. "I don't feel pressure in two-out situations and I take it as a personal challenge every time I'm up in a big spot. And I would say I'm more of a patient two-strike hitter that waits for my pitch. Driving the ball the other way and staying on top of the pitch has helped me also."
Gagliano's big year has opened a lot of doors for college. He will visit Dowling and Canisius during the next week, and others are calling.
"He hit .444 as a junior and his confidence continued to soar this year," Ambrosini said. "He does a lot of very good things. His approach and plate coverage are very good."
Gagliano credits his parents, younger brother Wade and his coach for much of his success. "If it wasn't my dad finding some time away from a very busy work schedule, it was my mom having to catch or throwing me batting practice in our backyard cage," he said. "And Wade and I always pitched to each other and worked on our swings."
There was a time during the winter when Gagliano thought he wouldn't play college baseball. He didn't know what the future had in store for him on the field.
"I honestly wasn't sure," he said. "Then our team went to Florida for spring training and it all came together for me. I can't imagine what life would be like without my baseball brothers. Coach Ambrosini has been such an inspiration and the guy that makes you realize you can be something special. He almost wills you to be the man. I went from nowhere to accepting this award -- and Ambro isn't surprised. Wow!"