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Pat Lagravinese

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Patrick Lagravinese hurls the ball to first base. Photo by Ray Passaro

The University at Albany is getting a special baseball player from Smithtown East next year, but if his family and coach are to be believed, they are getting a special person as well.

Patrick Lagravinese, who will be playing at Albany when the 2016 college baseball season begins, had a standout senior season playing shortstop and pitching for the Bulls. Smithtown East saw its record from 2014 to 2015 improve by 12 wins for one major reason — Lagravinese transferred back to Smithtown East ahead of his senior season after spending two years at St. John the Baptist.

Patrick Lagravinese makes contact with the ball. Photo by Ray Passaro
Patrick Lagravinese makes contact with the ball. Photo by Ray Passaro

While he was playing at St. John’s, all he managed to do was help the team win back-to-back Catholic league championships. He made the difficult decision to transfer back to Smithtown East, the school district he attended until his freshman year, despite the opportunity he had in front of him to win a third consecutive league title.

“Nothing’s better than being able to finish up your high school career with the friends and family that were there when you first started playing the sport,” Lagravinese said.

When Lagravinese decided he wanted to return to Smithtown East, he said he spoke with his parents and they supported the decision.

“He loved St. John’s but he felt like he was missing something his senior year,” Lagravinese’s dad, Chet, said. “But it wasn’t something I was going to do for him.”

The shortstop notified his head coach John Habyan, and said that phone call was “the hardest thing ever.”

“The amount of memories and relationships I made with this team will go a long way and I don’t regret any decisions I made crossing this path,” Lagravinese said.

With St. John’s in his rear view, Lagravinese was outstanding in 2015. He went 5-0 on the mound and hit .363 while playing solid at shortstop and earned an invitation to the Grand Slam Challenge, a Suffolk County versus Nassau County All-Star game.

“Senior year at Smithtown East was everything I could ask for,” Lagravinese said. “The coaches and players were great to me and made me feel like I never left.”

Welcoming him back was easy, though watching him move on will be much harder for the Bulls.

Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski
Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We’re going to do the best we can to slot someone in [at shortstop], but you don’t replace a Pat Lagravinese,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said about the reality of being without Lagravinese, who he called extremely coachable and hard working, next season. “He’s unique in the fact that he’s clearly the best kid on your team, but doesn’t want any of the credit.”

Klee added that when the team heard Lagravinese was returning, it immediately raised the Bulls’ expectations for the season. It was like the team found its missing piece.

Leadership was a word frequently used by those who are close to Lagravinese. Klee said that Lagravinese being around again raised everybody’s game.

“During practices I would try my best to be a leader even though I wasn’t a captain,” Lagravinese said. “Not being a captain doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help out and take charge when needed. Kids on my team looked at me as if I was a captain and I really appreciated that.”

That is a quality usually representative of truly special players like the one that Lagravinese said he models his game after.

“My favorite player is Jose Reyes,” he said. “I would always watch videos on YouTube and try and use the same style of play. I was a huge Mets fan up until he left, and now I love watching him play on the Toronto Blue Jays.”

University at Albany head coach Jon Mueller did not immediately respond to requests for comment, though he was quoted on the school’s official site after Lagravinese’s commitment to Albany: “Pat is a smooth fielding left-handed hitting infielder with good arm strength. He comes from both a great high school
program and summer organization. We anticipate Pat having an immediate impact for us in 2016.”

Chet Lagravinese spoke with pride when describing his son, both for the player he is and the person that he has become.

“He’s one of those kids that anything I say, he takes everything with pride,” he said. “He does whatever he has to do to make things right.”

Hauppauge’s Nick Fanti winds up to hurl a pitch. Photo by Alex Petroski

The best high school baseball players that Long Island has to offer were all on the same field Monday night at Farmingdale State College for the Grand Slam Challenge presented by Blue Chip Prospects, where the Nassau County All-Stars beat the Suffolk County All-Stars, 3-1.

Smithtown East’s Dom Savino warms up before taking to the mound. Photo by Alex Petroski
Smithtown East’s Dom Savino warms up before taking to the mound. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s a great atmosphere,” Joe Flynn of Ward Melville said about the experience after the game. “To come out here with all the best players on the Island, to get to compete against each other one last time before we all head off to college — it was really just a lot of fun seeing some of the talent that’s out there that we didn’t get to see this year.”

Billy Bianco of North Shore and Nassau County took home the MVP award, thanks in large part to his two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the sixth inning off of Smithtown East’s Dom Savino. Bianco’s clean single up the middle drove in Chaminade’s Beau O’Connell and Division’s Anthony Papa, and gave Nassau the lead for good.

Nick Fanti, Hauppauge’s star left-hander and winner of the Carl Yastrzemski Award given to Suffolk’s best player, got the start on the mound for Suffolk County. He pitched a scoreless first inning, helped out by a smooth 6-4-3 double play started by Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese. The double play erased an error by Flynn at third base and got Fanti through the first, unscathed.

“It’s awesome,” Fanti said after the game about playing in the Grand Slam Challenge. “It’s a huge honor, especially to start the game off and just be around all these great players. It was a really cool experience.”

Fanti was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 31st round of this year’s MLB Draft. He will decide between beginning his professional career in the minor leagues and playing ball at Marist College.

Ward Melville's Joe Flynn tosses the ball to first for the out. Photo by Alex Petroski
Ward Melville’s Joe Flynn tosses the ball to first for the out. Photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk staked Fanti to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Lagravinese roped a one-out single into center field, and then went from first to third on a slow roller to the hot corner by Flynn. The throw, trying to catch Lagravinese taking the extra base, was wild, which allowed him to score the game’s opening run.

Nassau tied the game in the bottom of the fifth after a lead-off triple into the gap in right center field by Papa, and a sacrifice fly by Wheatley’s Andrew Hastings, which drove Papa home. Suffolk tried to mount a comeback in the top of the seventh after Nassau pitcher Hasan Deljanin of Clarke walked the bases loaded with two outs. Deljanin struck out Mike Demarest of East Islip to end the threat, and Suffolk didn’t get another base runner after that.

Monday night was the final time that Fanti will throw to his Hauppauge battery-mate P.J. Contreras, who started behind the plate for Suffolk.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” Contreras said about his four-year high school career.

The fact that the game was an exhibition only slightly softened the defeat for Lagravinese.

“Both teams work hard so it’s a tough game to play in, but we showed out and Nassau had their day today and took it over,” he said.

Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski
Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski

Lagravinese and Savino, teammates at Smithtown East, will both play at the University at Albany next fall.
“It really hasn’t settled in yet,” Savino said of completing his last high school game. “Even when we lost in the playoffs I never really felt like it was over. Even now, after this, I don’t feel like it’s over.”

Flynn, winner of the 2015 Paul Gibson Award, which is given annually to Suffolk’s best pitcher, put his electric stuff on display when he took the hill for Suffolk in the eighth. He pitched himself into and out of trouble, getting MacArthur’s Brian Perez to pop out to first base with two outs and the bases loaded.

“It feels like yesterday that I was a freshman playing my first scrimmage at Smithtown East,” Flynn said of his time playing on the Patriots team. “It [has] gone by way too fast, but it was a great four years.”

Flynn will play baseball at Princeton University starting this fall.

The end of the evening seemed bittersweet for many of the players. Fanti lamented about the fact that strangers would replace his Hauppauge teammates-turned-best friends in the fall, and Lagravinese looked forward to his next journey at Albany. Both teams exited the field to standing applause from their friends and families who packed the Farmingdale State bleachers.