Even after struggling for a good portion of the regular season and entering the Class B playoffs as the No. 10 seed, defending champion Albertus Magnus still inspires fear in its opponent.
Senior ace James Reilly, the winning pitcher in last year’s section final, is a big reason why.
“Every playoff game that I pitched last year is still there in my mind,” Reilly said. “I know what it’s like to pitch under pressure, especially in that championship game. There’s really no more pressure than that.”
The Falcons unleashed the James Madison-bound right-hander on seventh-seeded Ardsley in the first round on Saturday. And as he has many times for them in the past, Reilly delivered with six strong innings to guide his team to a 10-0 statement win.
In moments of duress, he showed his fortitude. Reilly loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning and had runners on second and third with no outs in the fifth, but wiggled out of trouble on each occasion with clutch strikeouts and some help from his defense.
“I’m very, very confident in James whenever he takes the mound — especially in the playoffs,” Albertus coach Dan Freeman said. “He always wants the ball, and I trust him 100 percent. He’s pitched all of the big games this year, so I don’t feel like his record really indicates how good of a year he’s had.”
The pitching hasn’t been the issue for the Falcons, who spent the majority of the regular season flailing under .500. Reilly and junior Mike Dunne have provided quality innings all year, but the offense has been unsteady.
That was not the case on Saturday, as all nine offensive starters had at least one hit.
Jordan Rivera and James Clifford were the stars, with each driving in three runs. Rivera, one of only two returning starters from last season for Albertus, set the tone with a two-run double early in the game.
“I’m glad to have him back,” Reilly said of Rivera. “Right now, we’re just getting everyone on the same page. We said, ‘Listen, we’ve been here before. We know what to do, and we’re just trying to help everyone out.’ ”
The Falcons (10-9) will travel to No. 2 Valhalla for the quarterfinals on Monday, where Dunne is expected to take the ball against Vikings right-hander Jason Wolfthal. Dunne is sporting a 1.70 ERA and threw a no-hitter earlier this season.
“I have all of the confidence in the world in Mike,” Reilly said. “He’s really matured this year and he knows what needs to be done. He can handle the expectations.”