By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Ever since he joined the Harrison High School varsity baseball program three seasons ago, Tommy Dolaghan always had the makings of being a top pitcher.
But this season, with Dolaghan now a senior, things have changed a bit.
“He’s been pretty much pin point with his pitches,” said first-year Harrison head coach Jairo Mendez, who worked with Dolaghan the previous two seasons when Dolaghan’s uncle Sean was the head coach. “He’s now an actual pitcher now. He used to just throw, but now he’s smart and knows that he’s doing. He changes speeds and locations and throws all of his pitches for strikes.”
Mendez, a former standout pitcher in his heyday at Kearny High and later Montclair State, said that Dolaghan has been an excellent student from the minute Mendez arrived.
“From Day One, he’s always been one of the most coachable kids,” Mendez said. “He has listened to what I tell him and sticks with the things that we worked on together.”
Dolaghan said that it was easy to listen to what Mendez had to say.
“I knew he was a good college pitcher and he said the key is to try to stay ahead in the count,” Dolaghan said. “So that’s what I’ve focused on, throwing strikes. It’s hard to come back in the count, because you can’t throw the pitches you want to throw. It also keeps your pitch count down and enables you to stay in games longer.”
Added Dolaghan, “Throwing strikes is a big key, because if you don’t throw strikes, you lose your players behind you. If you do throw strikes, it keeps the defense on their toes and ready to make a play.”
Dolaghan is not worried about trying to blow the ball past opponents.
“I’m just pitching my game,” Dolaghan said. “It’s nothing special. I just go out there and do my best. I’m fine with everyone hitting the ball, as long as it is to one of my players.”
Dolaghan said that he’s using four pitches – a fastball, curveball, changeup and even a knuckleball – to get batters out.
A knuckleball? That’s rare for a high school kid.
“I just picked it up somehow and started to use it,” Dolaghan said. “I was goofing around with my friends, worked. So I kept throwing it and now I use it in games. It’s basically when I’m ahead in the count and I know I can surprise batters with it. I’m comfortable with every one of my pitches and I’m not afraid to throw them at any time.”
“I’d say the development of his knuckleball has been surprising,” Mendez said. “It’s become a good out pitch. He mixes it in here and there and it has become one of his out pitches.”
Lately, Dolaghan has been getting his fair share of out pitches. In his last two starts, against local rivals Lyndhurst and Queen of Peace, Dolaghan has been devastating on the opposition.
The senior right-hander threw a one-hitter against Lyndhurst, defeating the Golden Bears, 2-1. In that game, Dolaghan struck out only four, but more importantly, walked just one batter.
Last week, it was more of the same against Queen of Peace. Dolaghan pitched a four-hit shutout in the Blue Tide’s 1-0 victory.
In that game, it was more of the same, as Dolaghan struck out only three, but more importantly, walked just one to improve to 4-0 on the season.
For good measure Friday, Dolaghan had two hits and two RBI in a 5-1 win over Wallington, helping the Blue Tide to improve to 12-5 overall. He also had two hits and two RBI in a win over New Milford. For his efforts, Dolaghan has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Mendez likes the way Dolaghan has been throwing for the Blue Tide.
“He pitches to contact,” Mendez said. “He’s confident with a good defense behind him. That’s huge for a pitcher to have confidence in the team’s defense. But more importantly, Tommy throws his pitches. He knows what’s working. We tell him before the game what to work on and he does what he has to do. That’s been a big key to his success.”
Mendez said that Dolaghan has been the Blue Tide’s jack-of- all-trades when he’s not on the mound.
“He’s basically our utility guy,” Mendez said. “We can play him at third, shortstop, left field. We’re mixing him up, depending upon the lineup. He handles that well.” “Coach Mendez treats me well, so I’ll do whatever he needs,” Dolaghan said. “It helps a lot that he has a lot of faith in me.”
Dolaghan had a no-hitter going against Lyndhurst, but it was broken up in the seventh inning.
“As long as we got the win, that’s all that mattered,” Dolaghan said. “But that was one of the biggest wins of my career. The game is coming easier to me now. I understand what I have to do in key situations. I have to make the right call.”
Dolaghan isn’t sure whether Mendez will give him the ball this weekend, when the Blue Tide will play Ferris in the opening round of the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Baseball Tournament.
“I’m not quite sure,” Dolaghan said. “If I do, I’ll just go out there and pitch my game. I’d be thrilled if I got the chance. The county tournament will be big for us this year.”
Dolaghan said that he would love to pitch on the college level. Mendez thinks he has a shot.
“He can compete at the next level,” Mendez said. “He wants to get into one of the NJAC (New Jersey Athletic Conference) schools and I believe he can pitch there. He has great composure on the mound and that’s a big plus in a pitcher. I think he could develop a little more velocity. But if you can’t throw strikes, you’re in trouble, and Tommy throws strikes.”
“I’ll just see what the coaches have to say,” Dolaghan said. “I would absolutely consider it.”
If a local college baseball coach wants someone who can throw strikes and get batters out, then they have to look no further than Tommy Dolaghan.