GARRET MEADE PHOTO
With dirt and debris flying, Mattituck third baseman Mike Gagen covered third base while a Southampton runner slid in safely.
The Southampton Mariners gained a lot more than just trophies and accolades last year when they went further than they ever did before, reaching the Southeast Region Class B baseball final. That experience left them with something just as valuable: a healthy dose of confidence.
Last year Southampton won its first Suffolk County title since 1978 before going on to capture the Long Island championship. It was a dream season for the Mariners.
“It’s nice memories, but right now I’m concentrating on getting us back there and getting this team to start believing that last year wasn’t a fluke and maybe we can make another run at it,” said Southampton Coach Ike Birdsall.
With most of their starters back from last season, the Mariners have a positive mindset.
“I think they have more confidence as a team and as a whole now,” Birdsall said of his players. “They know they can compete with any team. That took us a while last year to get to that point where they actually had the confidence to step onto the field with anybody.”
That confidence came in handy Tuesday when Southampton held off the Mattituck Tuckers to get its League VII season off to a winning start. Chris Pike retired all six batters he faced in two innings of relief, preserving a 6-5 victory for Southampton in the opener of a three-game series with Mattituck.
Things got a little tight for Southampton (3-0, 1-0) in the sixth inning when it saw its four-run lead dwindle to one but, as Birdsall said, “A win’s a win, right?”
Two of the players who make Southampton a force to contend with are Pike, an all-state pitcher/shortstop, and Ricky Wesnofske, an all-league pitcher/center fielder. Both seniors figured prominently in Southampton’s league-opening victory.
A five-run rally in the fourth inning spotted Southampton a 6-2 lead and proved to be Mattituck’s undoing. The last of those runs, the eventual game-winner, came off a single that Wesnofske squeezed through the infield as part of his 2-for-3 day with a walk and two stolen bases. Earlier in the inning, Jeb Schmidt connected on a 2-2 pitch, slashing a single up the middle that brought in two runs, breaking a 2-2 tie.
“We did pretty good, but that one inning that we had, that really brought us down,” said Mattituck shortstop Yianni Rauseo.
Mattituck (2-3, 1-3) pulled three runs back in the sixth to makes things interesting. After Steve Ascher scored on a groundout by Mike Kar, making it a one-run game, Rauseo stepped into the batter’s box with a runner on third base and two out. Facing the hard-throwing Pike, Rauseo drove a shot to deep center field, but the center fielder, Wesnofske, made a clutch catch before tumbling backward, ending the threat.
“That was a nice catch,” Mattituck Coach Steve De Caro said in admiration. “Wesnofske has been killing us for three years. I’m sick and tired of him. We have to get rid of this kid. He caused too much pain over the years.”
If Wesnofske is a Tuckers killer, Pike is an equal-opportunity pain in the neck to opponents. He started the game at shortstop, where he made a stellar play to end the fourth inning and save a run in the process. With a runner on second base, Kar bounced a grounder toward second base. Pike made a sliding stop of the ball and then fired to first for the out.
It was Pike who came to the rescue in the sixth in relief of reliever Colin Buoniello. Mattituck had trimmed Southampton’s lead to 6-4 and had runners on second and third with none out. Pike retired all six batters he faced — three on strikeouts — to save the day for Southampton.
Mattituck’s first two runs came courtesy of the long ball. Greg Siliris clocked a home run over the left-field fence in the first, and Rauseo launched a shot in the same vicinity in the third. They were the first homers of the season for both players.
“We’re just trying to get better with every game, just trying to progress,” said Rauseo.
Conal Wood won his first decision of the season with a steady performance. He went four innings, allowing three hits, two earned runs and four walks with four strikeouts.
An argument could be made that, on paper at least, last year’s team was the best Southampton has ever produced. Can this year’s team be even better?
“It’s definitely as good, if not better,” said Schmidt.
Birdsall believes the Mariners will have to work harder to duplicate their success of 2009.
“Everybody’s going to come for us, and that’s why this season is going to be harder than last season,” he said. “We’re not going to sneak under the radar and come up and surprise anybody.”