Before playing the big game, the Southold High School baseball team is playing the waiting game, and it is tiring.
The First Settlers will finally take the field in the Southeast Region Class C final on Saturday. What they don’t know is who they will play, or where.
Worse yet, coach Mike Carver said he doesn’t expect to know until the night before.
That is not a minor inconvenience, either. The First Settlers will face the winner of a regional semifinal between Chester of Section IX and Tuckahoe of Section I. If Chester (16-4) wins, it will play the First Settlers (20-2) at Cantine Field in Saugerties at noon on Saturday. If Tuckahoe (16-4) wins, the First Settlers will head to Mamaroneck High School for a game that will start at either 11 a.m. or 2 p.m.
Talk about a logistical nightmare for a team that has to travel from the eastern end of Long Island. Carver figures the drive from Southold to Mamaroneck to be about two and a half hours, and from Southold to Saugerties a little over four hours or longer, depending on traffic.
“Even if we didn’t know who we would be playing, [knowing] where we would go would be nice,” he said.
The plan for the First Settlers is to drive upstate Friday afternoon and spend the night somewhere between Mamaroneck and Saugerties, thus cutting down their travel time on Saturday.
More than anything, though, the First Settlers just want to play. When they step on the field Saturday, it will have been 16 days since they defeated Pierson/Bridgehampton, 6-0, to sweep the Suffolk County Class C finals in two games for their third county championship and first in 12 years.
Since Nassau County doesn’t have a Class C team, the First Settlers were given a pass in the regional semifinal round, but that has meant a long wait for the regional final.
“They’re antsy,” Carver said of his players, who scrimmaged Smithtown Christian and were expected to scrimmage Mattituck this week. “They just want to go play. Let’s face it, we went from playing three games a week since the end of March to sitting for two weeks and playing no games. It’s tough.”
Southold will play in its first regional final since 2003 when it lost to Dobbs Ferry in nine innings by one run on a controversial play at home plate. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Carver.
Dobbs Ferry won the state title that year.
Carver said he has a more complete lineup this time around, though, with the best defensive team he has had in his 14 years coaching Southold.
Carver hasn’t declared who will be his starting pitcher Saturday, saying it will be either Alex Poliwoda (9-0) or Pat McFarland (5-2).
Both of them have been enjoying fine seasons. The First Settlers have been getting contributions from everyone. Right fielder Liam Walker, a senior playing in his first varsity season, opened eyes by leading the team with a .507 batting average during the regular season. Center fielder Shayne Johnson has played exceptionally well in the field. And one could go on down the line.
Carver said, “Trying to pick the most valuable player of the team this year is really impossible because when I look around at every single one of them, every single one of them has played a vital role in winning a game this year.”
The First Settlers, who went 4-12 last year, made a dramatic turnaround and have shown they have the stuff of champions. Southold is ranked second in the state among Class C teams by the New York State Sportswriters Association for the first time in team history, according to Carver.
“We really play together,” catcher Sean Moran said. “On defense, we hardly make errors in the field. We’re aggressive at the plate and our pitching is phenomenal.”
Carver said he will show his players a tape of that 2003 loss to Dobbs Ferry to give them a sense of what a regional final is like. In the meantime, the waiting continues.
He said, “Saturday can’t come fast enough.”