FIRST SETTLERS 10, BEARS 3
All one had to do was watch a single at-bat by Matt Stepnoski to appreciate what he brings to the Southold baseball team.
It was the bottom of the fourth inning of the season-opening game against The Stony Brook School on Saturday. The bases were loaded for Stepnoski when he stepped into the batter’s box. That’s when the cleanup hitter, well, cleaned up.
With one mighty swing, Stepnoski ripped a scalding line drive that skipped by the center fielder on the short hop. The first base coach, Joe Andrejack, waved on Stepnoski to head for second base. As Stepnoski rounded first, he glanced up and saw the center fielder chasing after the ball.
“I thought maybe double or triple at the most,” said Stepnoski.
So he kept running. By the time Stepnoski approached third base, Southold coach Mike Carver was sending him home for the fourth run on the play, which gave the First Settlers a 9-3 lead.
After the hustling Stepnoski crossed home plate, he laid down on the grass behind the team bench, catching his breath.
“I was out of breath,” he said. “I got to get the stamina up.”
Stepnoski hastened to add, “It felt good.”
The play — the highlight in Southold’s 10-3 win in the Suffolk County League IX game on its home field — was scored a single and a three-base error. Stepnoski might have deserved a grand slam for his effort, but he wasn’t complaining.
That single play said a lot about Stepnoski as a player. The senior center fielder is tremendously talented, and his work ethic on the field may be second to none.
“Matty really came up big for us today,” said Anthony Fedele, who was Southold’s starting pitcher in the game before later moving to catcher. “He hit a wonderful base hit. He’s a solid player. It’s great to have him here, it really is. And he hustles. He always tries 100 percent.”
Stepnoski’s play wasn’t the only thing for the First Settlers to feel good about. They produced six runs that memorable inning, the other runs scoring on bases-loaded walks by Sean Moran and Dylan Clausen.
Offering his postgame assessment, Carver said: “We were good enough to win, but not good. We hit O.K., but the defense has to be more crisp. I hate sloppy baseball. We always say, ‘Simple things perfect,’ and we were far from that today.”
Certainly, there was sloppiness. Signs of early-season rust could be seen, with the teams combining for 10 errors, seven by Stony Brook.
Still, heading into the new season with only one scrimmage behind them, the First Settlers were missing three players who were in Europe on a school trip: Shayne Johnson, Tom Messena and Alex Poliwoda. Five First Settlers made their first varsity starts: the catcher, Moran; left fielder Noah Mina; first baseman Chris Reilly, right fielder Kevin McGough and second baseman Timmy Stankewicz. Clausen, an eighth grader, also made his varsity debut, coming off the bench to pick up his first varsity hit, run, run batted in, walk and stolen base.
“To start the season with a win is wonderful,” Fedele said. “If we’re playing this well already, once we get the rest of our team back … we’ll be doing really good.”
Stony Brook, which looked improved from last year’s 0-20 team, opened the game with two runs from a two-out rally in the first inning. Pat Ruffer bounced a run-scoring single up the middle, and Tyler Hoegsberg rapped a run-scoring single to left field.
Stony Brook scored its final run in the fourth on a walk by Ben Walter with the bases loaded.
Stony Brook coach Kyle Cavanaugh said his team is better this year. “The team culture has been changing over the past couple of years, guys who are really coming out, working hard, playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and we still have a ways to go,” he said. “We got a lot of work to do. We have to clean some things up. We’re encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.”
Southold didn’t wait long to respond with four runs in the bottom half of the inning. Rob Mahony led off, looping a single to center field. He later scored on a balk. Moran scored from third base on an errant pickoff attempt, Fedele raced home on a fielding error, and Stepnoski scored on a groundout by Mina for a 4-2 lead.
“That’s big,” Carver said. “That’s a positive to take away from today.”
The first four Stony Brook outs came on strikeouts fired by Fedele. The right-hander allowed three hits and two earned runs over four-plus innings, walking four and striking out seven.
Southold also caused damage on the basepaths, going 9 for 9 in stolen-base attempts. Fedele, Stepnoski, Anthony Esposito and Mina had two steals each.
Esposito, playing third base, turned in the defensive gem of the game, making a great leaping grab of a humpback liner hit by Erik Holvik for the third out in the sixth.
Southold players said they were eagerly awaiting the start to the season.
“I just want to keep playing,” Stepnoski said after Saturday’s win. “I could play another game right now.”