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After debuting on the varsity stage at Notre Dame-West Haven in the spring, Ryan Sullivan earned four wins and recorded a 2.35 ERA for the North Haven Junior American Legion baseball squad this summer. Ryan was presented with the team’s Sportsmanship Award and also shared Post 76’s Pitcher of the Year Award for his performance on the season. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Sullivan )
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The last few months have been eventful ones for burgeoning baseball player Ryan Sullivan. In the spring, Ryan made his varsity debut on the pitcher’s mound as a sophomore at Notre Dame High School in West Haven. This summer, he was a fixture in the North Haven Junior American Legion baseball team’s starting rotation, finishing the season with four wins and a 2.35 earned-run average.
Ryan has been a pitcher since his days playing Max Sinoway Little League baseball in North Haven. Whether he’s pitching for Notre Dame or his Legion team, Ryan likes dictating the pace of the game and figuring out how to retire the opposition’s hitters whenever he steps on the hill.
“What I enjoy the most about pitching is that I’m in control of the game. Everything has to start and finish with me. That’s where I like to be. That’s my favorite position,” says Ryan, a right-hander. “Every time I go out there, I have to have confidence that I’m going to get the batter out. It’s a one-on-one game, and I take pride going up against every batter and trying to beat them with my best against their best.”
This summer marked Ryan’s fourth season as a member of North Haven’s American Legion program. Ryan, who also plays third base, spent his first two years with the Prep Legion team, before competing for the Post 76 Juniors the past two seasons. It was a big adjustment for Ryan to leap from Little League to Legion. However, Ryan says that facing stiffer competition made him raise his game and helped him progress into a better ballplayer.
“I had to work on hitting more line drives gap to gap and hitting to all fields, instead of just sticking the bat out there and hoping to find a hole,” Ryan says. “Pitching wise, it was definitely a lot different. In Little League, you can just throw fastballs all the time and throw them by hitters. But in Legion, you have to find ways to mix in your other pitches and locate them in order to be successful. I feel like my overall game improved, but I think I showed the most improvement on the mound.”
Ryan primarily threw the fastball when he joined Post 76, but then he started to develop a curveball and a changeup while throwing bullpen sessions with Coach Charlie Flanagan. He’s continued to work on the curve and the change with Tim Binkoski and Joe Lizza, who coach North Haven’s Senior and Junior Legion teams, respectively. Now, Ryan features a more diverse repertoire and uses all three of those pitches, along with the occasional splitter, to keep batters off-balance. Ryan’s strategy is to get ahead in the count and make them guess what’s coming next.
“When you’re ahead, you can throw whatever you want without worrying about walking anyone,” says Ryan, who threw a no-hitter versus New Haven last summer. “If you’re facing a team that’s good at hitting fastballs, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw—you have to keep them off-balance. You can’t just attack them with fastballs, because they will hit you. You have to mix in your off-speed stuff and your breaking ball. It gave me a lot more confidence knowing that I could depend on all of my pitches and come through in those situations where my teams needed me to be successful.”
Ryan brought his bag of tricks into his sophomore season at Notre Dame, where he started off by pitching JV. However, when a series of rainouts forced the varsity team to play several games in a short span, the Green Knights needed to call up someone to log some innings, and Ryan got the nod. He initially pitched in relief for Notre Dame on back-to-back days in late April. Two weeks later, Ryan made his first varsity start, which, ironically, came against North Haven. He took a no-decision that day as the Indians came away with a 6-5 victory.
Despite the defeat, Ryan says it was exciting to pitch against kids that he’s grown up playing baseball with in town. It means a lot to Ryan that he earned his promotion to the varsity ranks at Notre Dame this year.
“At first, I was really nervous, but I was also honored and ready for the challenge. I knew I had to take my game up even more to a level I hadn’t gone to yet to make an impact for the team in any way I could,” Ryan says. “My coaches could have chosen any of our other five or six JV pitchers, but they chose me, and I was very honored that they chose me. It gave me confidence going out there and knowing they believed in me.”
Ryan’s confidence continued to grow with the North Haven Junior Legion team this summer. He appeared in 14 games and threw 44.2 innings en route to notching four wins with a 2.35 ERA for Post 76. While Ryan was pleased to put up solid numbers, he’s even happier that his performance contributed to a great year for North Haven, which finished tied for the best record in Zone 2 and secured a berth in the State Tournament.
“It definitely means a lot more to play for a team that was playing for something in the playoffs. It was a lot of fun,” says Ryan. “Coach Lizza was good with putting us in the best position to win, and all of my teammates stepped up when we needed them. Our team jelled together, we all wanted to win, and we had a good year.”
Coach Lizza says that Ryan’s prowess as a pitcher is complemented by the all-around attitude that his athlete brings to the field every day for North Haven.
“Ryan’s pitching this year was outstanding. He’s a competitor and pitches to his highest potential every time he’s on the mound. I always feel confident when he’s on the mound,” Lizza says. “Ryan has great leadership skills. He works hard on and off the field and leads by example.”
When the season ended, Coach Lizza nominated Ryan for a couple of awards that represent the impact his athlete had on Post 76’s success this season. Ryan was not only named North Haven’s co-Pitcher of the Year with Anthony Cincola and Dan Meyers, he also received the team’s Sportsmanship Award. Winning these awards gives Ryan even more confidence as he looks forward to his junior year at Notre Dame and his first season with the North Haven Senior Legion team.
“It was a big honor to win both of those awards. I couldn’t have done it without all my coaches and teammates supporting me all the way. I was honored and surprised to receive them,” says Ryan. “I would like to have a big role at Notre Dame and help them be a successful team and see how far we can go. Same for Senior Legion next summer. I want to help us win games, win our zone, and go deep into the playoffs.”
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