by Tom Pedulla
Sleepy Hollow High School trailed Yonkers 2-1 in the fifth inning in the Nyack Tournament earlier this season when Sleepy Hollow Coach Rob Spirelli checked with right-hander Sean McCarthy.
Despite being set back by an unearned run, McCarthy was pitching well. Spirelli was concerned that his pitch count was building. He wanted to make sure he felt well enough to continue.
McCarthy’s answer was as strong as his pitching performance. He looked his coach in the eye and said forcefully, “You’re not taking me out of this game until we have the lead.”
McCarthy went on to pitch six innings with six strikeouts. Unfortunately for him, he reached 105 pitches, the limit set by state regulations intended to protect young arms. Spirelli was forced to make a pitching change. Worse still, Sleepy Hollow never overtook Yonkers, bowing 2-1 in a season marked by narrow defeats.
Spirelli told the anecdote not to lament defeats but to emphasize the ferocity of McCarthy’s approach.
“He’s one of the fiercest competitors I have on the team and I’ve had in a while,” Spirelli said. “He’s one of those kids who gets in the zone. He gets locked into a game and he’s able to shoulder a lot of the load.”
McCarthy, a 6-1, 185-pound junior, is still exasperated by that Yonkers loss. “I was really feeling it that day,” he said. “I wanted that game so bad.”
McCarthy has always looked up to his father, Sean, a standout hitter and pitcher at Archbishop Stepinac in White Plains. “I think I get that fire from him,” he said.
Whatever the source, Spirelli wishes that fire burned as brightly in every athlete. “You can’t teach that,” he said. “That’s someone who wants it so bad.”
McCarthy’s extraordinary competitive spirit is not limited to the diamond. He threw for 1,400 yards with 17 touchdowns last autumn for Sleepy Hollow. He developed a reputation for tenacious defense as a valuable sixth man in basketball.
Few players care more than McCarthy about winning and performing well. “He takes losing very personally,” his father said. “He puts a lot of pressure on his shoulders. It takes him awhile to recover.”
Whenever possible, he uses social media to study pitchers he expects to face, learning what they throw and how hard. He ramps up his intensity several notches whenever he has two strikes against him. Remarkably, he struck out only twice through the first 18 games.
“It’s not fun striking out,” he said. “I hate that.”
More than a few major leaguers could learn from the adjustments he makes when he has two strikes against him. “I’m going to really crowd the plate and make the pitcher uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s not so much about putting a hurting on the ball as putting it in play and doing the job.”
McCarthy is unusually versatile. After playing in the outfield last season, he is being used this spring primarily at shortstop. He can man virtually every position. He is a mainstay offensively, hitting third in the order and fashioning a gaudy .443 batting average with three home runs and 22 RBI through 18 games. The left-handed hitter boasted a .493 on-base percentage with a .739 slugging percentage.
“He’s our best all-around hitter. He’s the toughest out in our lineup,” Spirelli said. “He hits the ball to all fields. He hits for power. He hits for average. In a big spot, you want Sean up. He can battle.”
More than anything, McCarthy loves whatever game is in season. For now, that means baseball.
“There is nothing like going out on a hot day and playing baseball with my friends and competing,” he said.