No matter what the Mattituck baseball team did in Tuesday’s Class B Regional Final at Pace University’s Westchester Campus, Section I champion Briarcliff seemed to have an answer.
And in the end, the ball simply bounced the Bears’ way.
With the game tied 8-8 and two out in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Mattituck right fielder couldn’t haul in a fly ball that skipped off his mitt and allowed Briarcliff’s Brendan Weinstein to score from third base. The run gave the Bears a 9-8 victory in a see-saw battle that featured three ties and five lead changes.
“It’s not exactly how we wanted it to end,” said Mattituck coach Steve De Caro. “But they’re a great team. They hit the ball hard.”
That much was evident from the start.
After Mattituck scored three runs to grab a quick lead in the top of the first inning, Briarcliff first baseman Zach Ship ripped a bases loaded double to left field to tie the game up. Ship would later break a third-inning tie and give the Bears a 6-5 lead with a solo home run. He finished the contest with three hits and four RBIs.
Mattituck clawed its way back on top in the fifth inning with RBI singles off the bats of Tom Ascher, Greg Siliris and Nick Bieber to take an 8-6 lead, but it wouldn’t hold up for long.
Briarcliff’s Colin Orr and Spencer Kulman smacked back-to-back RBI doubles in the bottom half of the fifth to tie the game back up.
It was the beginning of the end of a memorable campaign for the Tuckers (20-6).
“What a great season,” Coach De Caro said afterward. “Everything will come up tomorrow.”
The first tough break of the evening for Mattituck came after the first inning when Ascher, who started the game on the hill, said he felt stiffness in his arm and couldn’t continue. He had struck out the first two batters of the frame before falling victim to Ship and his resilient Bears teammates.
“We were forced to go to plan B,” De Caro said.
Plan B came in the form of relief pitcher Yianni Rauseo, who faced 10 batters in two innings, surrendering three runs off a two-run blast from Briarcliff leadoff man Ryan Huegel in the second inning and the Ship homer.
A fatigued Steve Ascher, who had pitched 12 innings in the Tuckers’ previous two playoff wins, threw the final three innings for Mattituck, suffering his only loss of the season. The Southpaw finished his senior campaign 11-1.
“Steve wanted the ball,” De Caro said. “We’d be nowhere without him. What more can you say.”
Even after the loss, Steve Ascher’s teammates couldn’t help but take notice of his courage in taking the hill on just one day’s rest.
“That’s heart,” said Tuckers third baseman Travis Zurawski. “Heart, and a desire to win.”
Zurawski also showed a hunger for victory Tuesday, going 4-for-4 with a double and two runs scored.
Trailing 9-8 in the top of the seventh inning, he led off with a single to begin what Mattituck hoped would turn into a comeback rally.
But Briarcliff ace Josh Miller, who one day earlier pitched a complete game victory to help the Bears advance to the Regional Final, came in to relieve starter John Henshaw.
Facing the tough southpaw Miller, No. 3 hitter Tom Ascher laid down a bunt that failed to advance Zurawski to second base. Miller then picked up the save when he got the final two batters to fly out to center field.
Tom Ascher finished the game 2-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored. Siliris also went 2-for-4, with an RBI and two runs scored.
Rauseo was 2-for-3 with three RBIs on a home run and double. His third inning blast tied the game at 5-5.
“The season was still a total success,” Zurawski said. “We worked hard all year and we made it here.”
Briarcliff (19-6) moves on to the State Class B semifinals in Binghamton at 10 a.m. Saturday. A win would send them to the state championship game later that day.