Before the 2013 high school baseball season began, St. Peter’s Prep head coach Pat Laguerre knew that he had a sure-fire pitching ace in senior left-hander Ryan O’Connor.
Other people felt that way as well, considering that O’Connor was already a top-flight college recruit who had signed an early letter of intent to attend Fairfield University as a pitcher. A year ago, O’Connor was one of the top pitchers in Hudson County, posting a 6-1 record for the Hudson County Tournament finalists.
But reaching the county final wasn’t good enough for O’Connor. He wanted more, so he set out to make himself a full-time player and not just a quality pitcher.
“Last summer, I was an everyday player for my travel team [the Jersey Seminoles, based out of Bergen County],” O’Connor said. “I played first base and was the designated hitter on days when I didn’t pitch. Being an everyday player gave me a lot of confidence. I knew that I could go to the mound and help myself.”
“I definitely knew that he was an [NCAA] Division I pitcher, but we didn’t know how consistent he would be at the plate,” Laguerre said. “He definitely exceeded expectations, because I never expected him to be that good. There were at least five games where he got the key hit for us.”
Laguerre knew that O’Connor would have a standout senior year, especially the way his junior year ended, with a loss to Marist in the county tourney finals.
“Ryan is a very prideful kid,” Laguerre said. “I think he was very motivated by the way we lost in the county final last year. It was best to leave him alone. We couldn’t change him. We knew that he would be very motivated.”
Last Friday, in the NJSIAA Non-Public A North semifinals, O’Connor faced the biggest challenge of his baseball life. He was given the opportunity to face the No. 1-ranked team in the state, namely St. Joseph of Montvale, and the Green Knights’ ace hurler, Rob Kaminsky, who is slated to be a high draft pick in this week’s Major League Baseball free agent amateur draft.
“Ryan has pitched the biggest games and against the best pitchers,” Laguerre said. “He’s always been aces.”
So with all the major league scouts in attendance, with radar guns in hand, O’Connor strode to the mound, paying the least amount of attention to them as possible.
“I think we all tried to take it all in stride,” O’Connor said. “I knew that runs were going to be at a premium against Kaminsky, so I came into the game trying to keep them away from scoring. I was going to do whatever I could to help our team win. I was focused more on myself and what I could do than worrying about him.”
O’Connor did all he could to prevent the Marauders from losing, but Kaminsky was the better pitcher and gained a 3-0 victory. But the highly-rated hurler wasn’t that much better than O’Connor.
“I think he saw what was at stake and had the perfect demeanor,” Laguerre said. “All season long, he was like the forgotten guy. People tended to overlook him. I don’t think he got the recognition he deserved. Every time he took the mound, he gave us a clear-cut chance to win. He went out and executed. He did his job.
Added Laguerre, “He didn’t have to go out there and impress anyone. He’s very unflappable. It’s tough to get him rattled. I’m pretty sure he looked at it as a challenge to face Kaminsky and he held his own. He was a tough competitor. He wanted to do anything and everything to help us win and advance.”
O’Connor had the kind of senior year that most kids dream about. On the mound, the lefty posted a 7-1 record, with the lone loss coming in the showdown with Kaminsky. O’Connor also pitched a two-hit shutout in the Hudson County Tournament championship game against Weehawken. His earned run average for the season was an impressive 0.72.
At the plate, O’Connor batted close to .400 with four homers and 26 RBI.
“He was third on the team in hits and RBI,” Laguerre said.
And for his efforts, O’Connor has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week, the final honoree for the 2012-13 scholastic sports campaign. In the weeks to come, there will be presentations to the Reporter’s Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
Laguerre believes that O’Connor is an All-State caliber player.
“It’s how you measure up with the other great players and he’s right there,” Laguerre said. “He’s right there with everyone else. Fairfield is getting themselves a pretty good player. He pitched his heart out against the No. 1 team in the state. That says a lot.”
O’Connor was pleased to be a part of the Prep team that set a new school record for wins in a season with 26.
“I didn’t have that much experience as a player, but if I was sticking as a pitcher, I figured it would all work out,” said O’Connor, who finished his career with a stellar 13-2 pitching record for the Marauders. “It was an incredible year and I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else. In college, I won’t have the same group behind me. I just hope I can be as successful.”
For the summer, O’Connor plans to play for the Pershing Field/Jersey City RBI team to get ready for college baseball in the fall.
“I personally think I exceeded all expectations,” O’Connor said. “I don’t think I could have had a better year. The team did what we wanted to do, which was win the county and go far in the states. It means the world to me that this year turned out like it did.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.