Put that county championship on hold.
If the Mattituck Tuckers are going to be crowned as the Suffolk County Class B baseball champions, they’re going to have to wait a little bit longer. They can thank the Babylon Panthers for that.
There is still more baseball to be played. One final game will determine the champion.
Matt Finelli and Max Watt both homered within a three-at-bat span for visiting Babylon, which averted elimination and forced a decisive final game in the double-elimination tournament with a 7-2 victory over Mattituck on Tuesday. The result sets up a rematch between the two teams for the county title on Thursday at Mattituck High School.
For one day, at least, the Panthers looked elimination in the face and roared back.
“It’s a good feeling,” Finelli said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Babylon Coach Anthony Sparacio said, “Another day of practice and another game, and we’ll see what happens.”
After losing its first playoff game to the No. 3 Hampton Bays Baymen, No. 2 Babylon bounced back with a win over Hampton Bays in a loser’s bracket game. That advanced Babylon to Tuesday’s game against No. 1 Mattituck.
Mattituck Coach Steve De Caro knew better than to count Babylon out. He had seen the Panthers battle before, like in 2007, when they scraped past Mattituck on their way to the county title — and then went all the way, becoming the state champions.
“I’ll never forget that,” De Caro said. “They’re a tough team. They never give up, and we respect that.”
Mattituck’s starting pitcher, Tom Ascher (5-2), coasted in the first half of Tuesday’s game, looking good and retiring Babylon’s first 10 batters, six on strikeouts.
Then, with one out in the fourth inning, Finelli drove a hard-hit single under third baseman Travis Zurawski’s glove. The next batter, Ricky Negron, doubled, and then a groundout by Watt tied the score at 1-1. Two batters later, Sanders Shanks singled in the go-ahead run.
The rest of the game belonged to Babylon (12-11).
“This was do or die,” Finelli said. “We had to go out there and win.”
Babylon blew things open in the fifth when the homers by Finelli and Watt brought in four runs. After a leadoff walk by Mike Morrone and a ground-rule double by Zach Carmody bounced over the left-field fence, Finelli smacked his first career home run. Two batters later, Watt clocked a majestic solo shot to left, making it 6-1.
Babylon stretched that lead to 7-1 in the sixth on a run-scoring double by Carmody, his second two-bagger of the game.
Mattituck (17-5) had taken a 1-0 lead in the first. Zurawski struck a booming popup that was misplayed, landing near the pitcher’s mound without a glove having touched it. He later scooted home on an infield single by Greg Siliris.
But the Tuckers didn’t score again until the seventh. George Lessard reached base on a dropped popup and was then brought home on a double that Marcos Perivolaris knocked over the right fielder.
Watt (4-5) picked up the complete-game win. He gave up seven hits and one walk without any strikeouts.
Sparacio described it as “a do-or-die situation. We had to play a pretty perfect game.”
Now both teams are facing a must-win game.
Mattituck last won a county title in 2008. Among those in attendance were some members of that 2008 team who were hoping to celebrate, but any festivities of that sort have been put on hold.
The Tuckers are expected to send their ace, Steve Ascher, to the mound on Thursday. He has a 10-0 record with a 0.32 earned run average.
Sparacio said he didn’t know who Babylon’s starting pitcher would be, but he mentioned Finelli and Shanks as possibilities.
“I feel like we have pretty good chances,” Siliris said. “I’m not sure who’s going to be throwing on Thursday, but we’ve seen them all, we’ve hit them all. We have a good feeling about this one.”
Then again, Finelli indicated that he felt good about his team’s chances, saying, “Anything’s possible.”