Shortly after the Suffolk County baseball schedule was released, senior Rafe Schlesinger sat down with Sachem East coach Kevin Schnupp to discuss the pitching schedule.
Schnupp knew Schlesinger could go toe-to-toe with any pitcher and any lineup on Long Island. He didn’t want to overwork Schlesinger, who is committed to pitch at the University of Miami but will likely be selected in this year’s MLB Draft and have a decision to make between going to college or playing professionally.
Schlesinger wasn’t concerned with all that. He just wanted to pitch for his school and be on the mound when his team needed him most against the stiffest competition.
"The way I always thought was if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best," Schlesinger said. "So I knew there were kids out there like Thomas Ventimiglia who was in our league. Commack was a good team this year. I just wanted to get out there and give our team the best chance to win and I wanted to be that guy."
"That guy" may be an understatement. Schlesinger was nearly unhittable this spring. The Sachem East senior went 4-1 with a 0.70 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 80 strikeouts over 40 innings. He also recorded a save and only surrendered 18 hits all season en route to winning the 2021 Paul Gibson Award, given annually to Suffolk’s top pitcher by the Suffolk County Baseball Coaches Association.
"It’s a big honor," Schlesinger said. "I know the award is very prestigious and to see people like Marcus Stroman, Anthony Kay and other professionals and even the people that are going to come after, it’s a good list to be on."
Schnupp said there were between four and 14 MLB scouts at nearly every one of Schlesinger’s starts. The 6-3 lefthander sports a fastball reaching 94 mph, along with a strong slider, curveball and changeup.
"He’s the type of guy when he gets out there, he expects to win," Schnupp said. "He expects to dominate. The expectations were there before we went out and he lived up to every one of them."
One of Schlesinger’s finest performances came in a game he exited without a victory. Schlesinger recorded 17 of 19 outs via strikeout over 6 1/3 no-hit innings before being removed due to reaching the 105 maximum pitch count. The southpaw credited catcher Jake Acker for the success that day against Patchogue-Medford.
"That wasn’t even the day I had my best stuff," Schlesinger said. "I was just battling and happened to get a lot of swings and misses that day."
Even as radar guns and professional scouts filled his outings, Schlesinger tried to remain focused on helping his team win. Not what comes next.
"Sometimes you’re fortunate enough where you kind of forget how big of a deal that is," he said. "So I try to stay in the moment."
"He wanted the big games," Schnupp said. "That’s the type of kid he was. He had a bulldog mentality and when he was out there, you expected to win."