Judgment day has arrived — in Suffolk County high school baseball, at least.
A lot was at stake for both the Babylon Panthers and the Mattituck Tuckers when they engaged in a doubleheader on Saturday, the final day of the regular season. Babylon was looking for entry into the playoffs and Mattituck was seeking a share of the league championship. Both sides needed to sweep the doubleheader in order to automatically achieve those aims.
It didn’t happen.
A split in the twinbill cost Mattituck (16-4, 14-4) a shared piece of first place with the Elwood/John Glenn Knights (16-4, 15-3). It may have also left Babylon (10-10, 8-10) out of the playoffs, but that is not as cut and dry. With the playoff brackets to be released on Monday, Babylon is hoping to find a place in the postseason, by petition if nothing else.
Will Babylon be in the playoffs?
“It’s a good question,” Babylon coach Anthony Sparacio said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed and we’ll hear what the committee says. They should say yes.”
Babylon gave itself a better case for inclusion thanks to its 6-5 victory in the second game on Saturday at Mattituck High School. With the bases loaded, Sanders Shanks scored on a dropped fly ball in the outfield to give the Panthers a 6-4 lead.
Yianni Rauseo boosted Mattituck’s hopes in the seventh by socking a bomb of a solo home run, his sixth of the season.
“Ouch,” Sparacio said. “We’ve seen a lot of Rauseos over the last couple of years. This one’s no different.”
But the winning pitcher, Max Watt, retired two of the next three batters, sealing the win. Watt struck out 10, walked two and gave up 10 hits over the full seven innings.
Travis Zurawski and Steve Ascher both went 3 for 4 for Mattituck, which took two of three games from Babylon in the series.
The Tuckers seemed to take their loss of a shared league title in stride, even playing it down to some extent and looking forward to bigger things down the line. What had to help was the near certainty that they will be the top-seeded Suffolk Class B team in the playoffs. Mattituck is the only Class B team in the county with a winning league record.
Asked if not finishing in first place mattered much, Rauseo replied: “Not really. It’s all about the postseason. If we go far in the playoffs, we’re not going to worry whether we were in second place or not.”
Even before this final three-game series, Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro had indicated that his priority was on the playoffs. Following Saturday’s doubleheader he said: “I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but it’s been such a great season. I told the kids before, ‘We’ve had such a great season, and more important, we’ve had such a great time together that it would be selfish to be: Oh my God. We didn’t get first place.’ ”
Mattituck relied on Tom Ascher’s pitching in the first game, an 8-2 win by the Tuckers. Ascher did not allow an earned run over the five innings he pitched. The senior right-hander struck out three, walked none and gave up seven hits.
Mattituck, which won despite managing only four hits, built a 5-0 lead by the fourth inning. Perhaps the strangest play of the day came in the third when the Tuckers scored three runs on the same play. After a wild pitch with the bases loaded allowed John Schultz to score for a 2-0 Mattituck lead, George Lessard stepped to the plate with runners on second and third. Lessard’s ground ball turned into a throwing error that allowed Kiernan Nish and Marcos Perivolaris to cross home plate before yet another throwing error on the same play saw Lessard scoot home himself.
“I don’t think there was any pressure on us, to be totally honest,” Tom Ascher said, “because, worst comes to worst, we’re still first in Class B.”
That doesn’t mean the Tuckers don’t test their coach’s patience sometimes. After one of his players failed to advance a base, DeCaro slammed down the batting helmet he wore while serving as the third base coach and broke it. It’s a helmet he has had since he played in the Stan Musial League some 10 years ago. He carried it into his office after the doubleheader. “I think I’m going to use it as a reminder not to throw things,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Tuckers have other things on their minds as they wait for the playoff scenario to unfold.
“First place, I don’t think it was that important, but we just have to look toward the playoffs now,” Zurawski said. “We just got to look forward now.”