Joe Savino opened the 2019 season as one of Suffolk’s elite pitchers. By the end of it he was the gold standard.
The Connetquot senior shouldered huge expectations after going 6-1 with a 0.69 ERA as the Thunderbirds finished 2018 as the Suffolk Class AA runner-up. The 6-4 righthander would be the ace, the silencer of great lineups and sherpa to lead the team to a first county title since 2015. He proved to be all of those and so much more.
“He had a dominating season and was one of the big reasons our team won the county,” Connetquot coach Rob Burger said. “So many good things happened for this team this season and a lot of them don’t happen without Joey Savino.”
Savino is the recipient of the 2019 Paul Gibson Award, given annually to Suffolk’s top pitcher by the Suffolk County Baseball Coaches Association, and the numbers that he posted this season leave no room for doubt.
In nine starts, Savino went 8-1 with a 0.74 ERA and 79 strikeouts against just two walks in 57 innings pitched. Opponents batted .146 against him and he allowed fewer than four baserunners per game.
And Connetquot? The Thunderbirds went 21-7 and captured the county title by winning the championship series in three games against Ward Melville.
“While I am proud of the season I had, I am much more proud of what my teammates did and the way we performed as a group,” Savino said. “After falling short of winning the county last year, it was a character check for all of us and it brought out the best in so many of us. Our team showed guts all the way to the end and even in losing the LIC by a run to Massapequa.”
“[Savino] is a leader but he doesn’t do it with his words — he does it with his confidence,” Burger said. “Some leaders fire up a team with what they say. He stands on the mound and the rest of the team sees how he knows he’s going to beat [an opponent] and that fires them up.”
The key for Savino transforming excellence a year ago into dominance this season actually may have been a matter of trust.
“I stopped worrying and focused on throwing strikes and I trusted,” said Savino, who has accepted a scholarship to Elon. “I trusted that my stuff would be good enough to get batters out without nibbling. I trusted that my team would make all the plays behind me. And I trusted that if I could get us on and off the field as fast as possible, we would do more than enough hitting.”
On his official recruiting visit to Elon Savino stayed with George Kirby and the two became friends and confidants; Savino called him “influential” in forming his approach to the season. Kirby had 107 strikeouts and six walks in 88 1/3 innings this season before being selected the Mariners’ first-round pick this month and Savino said “I look up to him because he pitches like I want to pitch.”
It’s a multipronged attack with which Savino comes at hitters. He has a fastball that sits 90-92 and a late-breaking slider that he throws with great effect in any count. But there is guile in his attack too. He registers how hitters react in their first at-bat against him and then uses it against them when they come up a second or third time.
“He’s a very smart pitcher,” Burger said.
And this season he made things even harder on opposing hitters by mixing in a changeup that he worked hard to develop in the offseason, giving him a third devastating pitch. Burger said Savino trusted it as a weapon in high-leverage moments.
“Having two pitches you can throw for a strike is better than one,” Savino said. “Having three is even more helpful. It was a pitch I could hold back on all game and then use when it wasn’t expected. . . . Again that was about trusting what I had and who I had behind me.”
“This was a special season for Connetquot and a special season for Joey Savino,” Burger said. “He never disappointed and that’s not easy to do over an entire season.”