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Kevin Willi

Shoreham-Wading River's Brian Morrell was selected in the Major League Baseball draft by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

It has been quite a month for Shoreham-Wading River senior Brian Morrell.

After the right-handed pitcher helped lead his team to a 24-2 record and Suffolk County title to close out May, he performed in the Blue Chip Grand Slam Challenge, leading Suffolk County to that win, too. Last week, he became the second player ever to receive the Yastrzemski Award twice in the distinction’s 50-year history. The honor is awarded to the top player in Suffolk County, which Morrell also became just the fourth junior to receive.

Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik, who was recently playing for Chipola College in Florida, was selected by Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

To top it off, now he’s also a Major League Baseball draftee.

The small-town star was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round, with the 1,043rd pick, just after 5 p.m. June 14.

“An absolute honor to be drafted by the Phillies today,” Morrell posted on Twitter. “Thank you to all of the people who have supported me over my baseball career.”

The feared slugger batted .500 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs while scoring 37 runs this season, and had a 10-1 pitching record with 93 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. His first loss didn’t come until the Long Island championship game against Wantagh. The senior set numerous school records, including hits in a season (44), career home runs (27) and career wins (29). Morrell threw six no-hitters in his varsity career, including three this season.

Shoreham-Wading River head coach Kevin Willi had his iPad close by at all times once the draft was underway. He cleaned out his coach’s office at the high school, did chores around the house, and finally, his young sensation’s name came across the screen. He gasped.

“This is awesome,” he shouted.

Willi was supposed to be having a birthday dinner with his family, after foregoing a birthday celebration the night before to attend the player awards dinner, but it had to be put off for at least another night. He immediately picked up the phone to call all the coaches he knew.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell is a 6-foot, 1-inch right-handed pitcher who is committed to Notre Dame University. File photo by Bill Landon

“It was a good birthday present,” Willi said of the back-to-back historic days for Shoreham-Wading River and for his 6-foot, 1-inch right-hander. “With each name that was posted I was keeping tabs. It’s exciting for him and it’s exciting for the program.”

Although Willi said it was expected, he added how interesting it was to see how the draft process works with a Notre Dame University-commit like Morrell, who has almost a full scholarship valued at nearly $300,000, according to Willi. Along with the Phillies, other teams that scouted Morrell closest included the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.

After seeing about five scouts at each game, Willi was waiting with anticipation for that special moment for his senior, but he didn’t expect that to be the case for Morrell, since the hurler has always stayed cool under pressure.

“Brian works his tail off, and he does the right thing,” Willi said. “The first couple times the scouts were out, the guys were a little awestruck, but Brian has always been team-first.”

Morrell had one of his biggest showings in a no-hitter against Bayport-Blue Point April 27. At least five scouts were in the stands to see him nail down 15 strikeouts with three walks while tossing the seven scoreless frames. He topped out at 95 mph on the radar gun. A scout who came from Massachusetts and got caught in traffic, according to Willi, only caught the last inning, though he still got to see Morrell comfortably throwing each pitch at 92 mph late in the game.

“It was good for the scouts to be there and see some of his best stuff,” Willi said. “[Being drafted had] been on his mind all season, but he never let it reflect on his performance or how he treated anyone. He didn’t try to throw 100 mph and not care if he wins the game — he never had that attitude. He always did what he needed to do to win the game. He was never selfish. He never tried to impress. He just wanted to win.”

Scouts were also impressed with his body of work.

Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round. Photo from St. John’s University athletics

Jarred Carrier, New York’s scouting director for Prep Baseball Report, dubbed Morrell New York’s Baseball Player of the Year.

“The 2017 high school season yielded many stellar individual performances across all corners of New York, but one player stood above the rest,” he said. “He delivered a statistically dominant season.”

Despite Morrell’s success, the 10-year coach and three-year varsity leader in no way takes credit for what his player has become.

“One of my coaching philosophies is that a player should be coached by many coaches,” Willi said. “One guy doesn’t have all the answers. There’s different strokes for different folks. Everybody had different body types, different talents, different skills in the game, and I think they should be exposed to many coaches. There’s a couple of things I taught Brian that he can take to the next level, and that makes me proud as a coach.”

An hour after Morrell went, 2014 Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round. Tyler’s father Keith played seven seasons for the Pirates from 1996 through 2002. Tyler Osik played infielder and catcher, most recently for Chipola College in Florida.

“It’s sweet,” Willi said immediately upon hearing the news. “It’s really cool. To have coached six years total of varsity including assistant and head coach, I’ve had three players during that time get drafted that I’ve had the pleasure of coaching.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell shows excitement following his two-run home run during a WIldcats win. Photo by Bill Landon

This is the second time that two Shoreham-Wading River graduates have been selected in the same draft. The first time, coincidentally, was in 1990 when Osik’s father was drafted by the Pirates and Julio Vega by the San Francisco Giants.

“He was a leader on the field,” Willi said of Tyler Osik, who played third base for the Wildcats. “He switched to catcher, which is interesting, because he’s followed the run of his father. He’s one of the Shoreham die-hard baseball kids. He loves the game, puts tons of effort into being the best and he did a good job listening to his coaches. I’m really happy to see his success.”

Other Suffolk County players to be taken in this year’s draft included Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round, and Commack’s Jesse Berardi, a St. John’s junior, who was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round with the 312th overall pick.

St. John’s appeared in the NCAA regional this year. Donadio posted a .374/.473/.547 with 24 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and 38 RBIs starting in all 55 games this season.

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contact, but Morrell is already settling in as part of the Fighting Irish.

“To have that kind of recognition, us coaches are proud of any kind of professional looks that we get,” Willi said. “Brian got the opportunities that many kids dream of. It’s a big decision on what path you’re going to take, but I reassured him whatever path he takes, it’s going to be a fun one. If he keeps working hard he’s going to be successful.”

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Wildcats' senior Kyle Baylous walks off the field after a sixth-inning rally stalls. Photo by Alex Petroski

An old baseball adage says to beat a dominant starting pitcher, you have to get to him early, and facing one of the most dominant hurlers in recent Long Island baseball history, the Wantagh Warriors executed the game plan to perfection. The first six batters to face Shoreham-Wading River standout senior starter Brian Morrell all reached base, and the first four eventually scored in a nightmare first inning for the Wildcats, who dropped the Class A Long Island championship game June 3 at SUNY Old Westbury, 4-2.

Brian Morrell fires a pitch. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Warriors sent nine men to the plate in the bottom of the first on four hits and two walks to jump out early, and eventually hand Shoreham-Wading River its first loss since April 5. The loss snapped a 20-game Wildcats win streak. Wantagh was crowned the Long Island Class A champion for the second consecutive season after knocking off Mount Sinai for the title in 2016.

“I think they had a good approach because Brian’s hard to hit, so they probably just started hacking away when they could and got a good piece of the ball and did what they had to do to win,” senior catcher and team captain Thomas Brady said of Wantagh’s big inning against Morrell.

The University of Notre Dame-bound starting pitcher finished his rockiest outing of the season allowing four earned runs on five hits, three walks and five strikeouts over six innings. He eventually settled in, and only one Warrior base runner reached second base after the first inning.

The Wantagh Warriors celebrate knocking off Shoreham-Wading River in the Long Island Class A championship game. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It was like a dream come true kind of,” Brady said of the scorching stretch of baseball Shoreham-Wading River put together to reach the final game. “We all worked as hard as we possibly could. I love these guys to death and now we’re all moving on to a new chapter. Hopefully the younger kids can bring it home next year.”

The Wildcats’ entire starting lineup was comprised of seniors Saturday. Head coach Kevin Willi reflected on the successes of the outgoing 16-man senior class following their last game in blue and gold.

“They were awesome — I mean really all 16 guys were diehard all year,” he said. “They worked their tails off the entire time. I wish we could have came home with a Long Island championship for them, but that’s the way it happens. A county championship is a pretty good accomplishment, especially with the best record in program history; those are good things to remember that these guys earned.”

Wantagh’s left-handed starting pitcher, junior Anthony Fontana, kept the Wildcats’ normally potent offense off balance for most of the game. He allowed just two earned runs on five singles and a walk over five innings of work. Saturday was the first time all season Shoreham-Wading River had been held to two runs or less.

Brian Morrell takes a cut as Shoreham-Wading River’s last chance in the seventh inning. Photo by Alex Petroski

“He’s curveball heavy, so a lot of our guys don’t want to swing at a first pitch curveball, but when the pitcher gets ahead with a curveball the batter is already at a disadvantage,” Willi said. “We hit him hard a bunch of times, and right at guys. He did a good job.”

Despite the slow day offensively, the Wildcats still had a chance in the bottom of the seventh inning trailing 4-2 with Morrell — who hit two grand slams in the previous three games — at the plate as the tying run. He grounded out to third on a high chopper to end the Wildcats’ hopes of heading upstate for a shot at a state championship. Despite the disappointing conclusion, Willi reiterated how proud he was of the achievements of his 2017 squad.

“It was awesome — we played really well through that stretch,” he said of winning 20 straight. “Even this game we played well. We ran into a good Wantagh team.”

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The Wildcats will play in the Long Island championship June 3

The Shoreham-Wading River baseball team dogpiles following its 8-1 win over Bayport-Blue Point, to complete a series sweep for the Class A Suffolk County crown. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Shoreham-Wading River baseball team utilized a familiar formula to extend its dominant season beyond the Suffolk County Class A final May 26 — equal doses of the long ball and the powerful right arm of senior ace Brian Morrell.

Brian Morrell hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Alex Petroski

Morrell put a cherry on top of his special senior season with a complete game, 11-strikeout performance to stymie the Bayport-Blue Point bats in an 8-1 victory. He also went 3-for-5 at the plate including a second-inning grand slam — his second in three games — finishing just a triple short of the cycle. The win was the 20th in a row for the Wildcats, which completed the sweep of Bayport-Blue Point to close out their Suffolk County schedule 24-1, with an eye on more pieces of hardware.

“His breaking ball was really dynamite — that’s a tough pitch to hit,” head coach Kevin Willi said of Morrell’s stuff on the mound Friday. “He’s throwing it in all counts — not afraid to throw it 3-2 to guys; and it was really effective.”

Willi reflected on coaching the dominant two-way player during his memorable career.

“It’s nice, it’s easy,” Willi said of coaching Morrell. “He’s a good kid too on top of that. He’s always team first.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s baseball team celebrates its Class A Suffolk County championship win. Photo by Alex Petroski

The ace, who has committed to play ball at the University of Notre Dame next season, said his whole arsenal was working in the victory.

“I just commanded my fastball, that’s really how I started off every batter,” he said. “Every pitch I really felt confident in. I knew if I threw strikes I was going to come out with the ‘W.’”

Morrell scattered three hits over the first two innings, then didn’t allow another over the final five frames. He set down 10 straight Phantoms at one point, before loading the bases with two walks and a hit by pitch to start the sixth. A fly out and two strikeouts ended the threat and maintained a seven-run lead.

“He was throwing really hard and painting corners,” senior catcher Thomas Brady said of his battery mate’s performance. Brady kicked off the scoring with a one-out, two-run homer in the top of the first. He and Morrell combined to drive in seven of the Wildcats’ eight runs. “Honestly, when me and him get in our rhythm, we’re the best duo,” Brady said. “It’s really hard to hit Brian obviously.”

Brian Morrell rounds the bases after hitting his second grand slam in the last three games. Photo by Alex Petroski

Despite Morrell’s consistency on the hill, Willi said the team was driven by its offense in 2017.

“All season we’ve had a really heavy senior class — a lot of guys working hard for very many years to get to this point,” he said. “We put together a lot of great pitching performances, we played great defense at times when we needed it, and really the story of the year was the bats. We scored a lot of runs.”

The Wildcats will face the winner of the Nassau County championship series between Wantagh and Garden City. The Long Island championship game will be played June 3 at SUNY Old Westbury at 12 p.m.

Brady said he’s not sure it matters who Shoreham-Wading River squares off against next.

“Whoever we play, they’re not going to stop us right now,” he said. “We’re hot, we’re playing hard. We became a team, and I’m proud of all of these guys.”