By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Thou shalt not steal.
Xaverian’s Robert Amato had all of his pitches working, his fastball, curve and changeup, but what helped him out more than anything was his pickoff move.
“When I was younger, one of my coaches told me to vary my head fakes and the rest I learned from watching Andy Pettitte,” Amato said of the former Yankees pitcher known to have an exceptional pickoff move. “It was a big factor and it kept my confidence up because I knew that even if guys were getting on base, I could still help get them out.”
If Pettitte hadn’t retired this season, he might have wanted to make the trip to Brooklyn for some pointers, because Amato frustrated Holy Cross baserunners all game long. Amato erased three of the four baserunners he put on during a 2-0 victory in Bay Ridge on Monday.
“He's been doing that all year,” Xaverian manager Frank Del George said. “He's a tremendous pitcher. He's got a great move. That was maybe his eighth pickoff this year. That's a part of his arsenal.”
Amato gave up just two hits and two walks, but Holy Cross didn’t get a batter past first base because he kept picking them off.
His first victim was Brandon Simone, who was picked off after he reached on a single and before Amato even threw a pitch to the next batter. Then in the fifth, the first base coach warned Matt Sanchez to stay close to the bag, but Amato nailed him anyway. Finally in the sixth, Rocco O'Dell barely even had a two-step lead, but Amato got him too. In three different innings, three potential rallies were thwarted.
“I don't know where he learned how to pick guys off like that but it's amazing,” Xaverian’s left fielder Jimmy Howard said. “It keeps the runners off balance. It's critical because if those baserunners get on and stay on, who knows what's going to happen. A bloop single here or there and it's a different game.”
With Holy Cross unable to start anything on offense, Xaverian merely had to push a couple of runs across the board to win, and the Clippers did that in the fourth inning when Howard singled to right with one out and scored on an RBI single by Brandon Torres. Torres then scored to make it 2-0 when Holy Cross' starter Conor McGuire threw the ball into center field on, of all things, a pickoff attempt. Both runs barely beat out plays at the plate.
With the victory, Xaverian finished the regular season with a 22-4-1 overall record and a 13-3 record in the Catholic High School Athletic Association and clinched the No. 2 seed, earning a playoff bye in the process.
It also capped off an amazing season for the Clippers. They entered the season having lost 17 seniors that graduated the year before, and expectations were low even among their own coaching staff. However, players stepped up, especially pitchers Anthony Sigismondi and Amato, and bats like Christopher Amato, Robert’s brother, Anthony Scotti and Michael Costello, and they have exceeded all expectations.
“We thought it was going to be a tough year this year,” Del George admitted. “We figured that we'd get our butt kicked a bit, but the team has really responded. We went down to Myrtle Beach and the team really came together, they've been very tight ever since we've come back from there. We were 4-0 after that and we haven't stopped.”
Within one season the Clippers went from a team considered to be rebuilding to one that has its sights on a city championship. After all, they have not only had an impressive season, but they have been able to beat Archbishop Molloy, the only team with a better record than them.
“We're a young team, but very talented,” Robert Amato said. “People underestimated us, but we've been able to make a big noise this season and right now we feel that we have what it takes to make some noise in the playoffs too.”