The odds against the scenario had to be extraordinary, and yet there they were, two baseball teams from high schools located only 7.46 miles away from each other, both playing in Binghamton, N.Y., on the final day of the postseason in pursuit of a state championship.
Who would have figured? Who could have guessed?
Well, it must be said that the careers of the coaches of the Mattituck and Southold teams have remarkably similar win-loss records. In his 13 years at Mattituck, Steve DeCaro has a 189-117 (.618) record; Southold’s Mike Carver is 180-120 (.600) over 14 years.
This season their teams followed eerily similar paths of baseball excellence, winning league championships (Mattituck in League VIII and Southold in League IX) as well as Suffolk County and Long Island titles in their respective classes (Mattituck in Class B and Southold in Class C). They both won regional championships on the same day on the same field in Mamaroneck two Saturdays ago.
That brought the attention of the North Fork baseball world to Binghamton this past Saturday for the state semifinals and finals. Only 10 high school teams were still playing baseball in New York on Saturday, and both Mattituck and Southold were among them.
Who could have imagined such a thing?
Well, the truth is, both teams looked like they had the potential for doing something special this year, and they sure did.
The teams themselves had striking similarities. Both featured solid lineups, with no obvious weaknesses that opponents could exploit. Both teams were packed with veterans. Both teams had players who played together for years. Both teams had players who appeared to like each other and shared a closeness.
“We have some tightknit friendships on this team, and that really helps,” said Mattituck first baseman Ian Nish.
It wasn’t until precisely 12:42 p.m. on Saturday when the paths of these teams finally diverged. It was at that time when Southold’s dream was snapped in an epic 2-0 loss to Hoosic Valley in a 10-inning semifinal at Binghamton University that had more drama and thrills than one would dare ask for. A short time earlier, Mattituck had passed its state semifinal test, 7-2, over Ogdensburg Free Academy at SUNY/Broome Community College.
And so, the Tuckers moved on to the state final, which didn’t come close to matching the excitement of the Hoosic Valley-Southold game. The real excitement for the Tuckers came after their 4-1 victory over Livonia when they celebrated their first state championship.
Mattituck center fielder Joe Tardif was moved to tears over the achievement.
“It’s amazing,” Tardif, with a state champion’s medal draped around his neck, said after the final at Broome Community College. “This is what we wanted to do all year and we finally did it.”
It is one thing to set a goal of winning a state championship and quite another to actually do it. Like walking through a minefield, there are so many potential pitfalls along the way: injuries, illness, slumps, upsets, personal issues.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Tuckers, maybe even just as amazing as their 27-1 record, is that one can say they never really played a bad game in 2015. Their sole loss was by one run to Babylon. It’s an astounding record of consistency.
Offensively, the team was a juggernaut. Watching the Tuckers play throughout the season, one didn’t wonder during a game if they would score so much as how many multiple-run rallies they would have in a game.
Disappointed by their loss to Rye Neck in a regional final last year, the Tuckers were determined to make a run for it all this year, and they did a lot more than just talk about it. They did the hard work not seen by the cameras and the fans. In January, they were in the weight room, pumping iron and getting stronger. They worked out after games, all in an effort to get better.
“Really, really hard work, an average of probably six hours of practice a day, really battled through those,” said shortstop Chris Dwyer, who may be the team’s best overall hitter.
They never seemed to lose their focus.
“These guys have worked extremely hard,” DeCaro said. “These guys deserve everything that they have gotten so far. They’ve worked hard since January. They worked out in the snow. They worked out in the weight room. They worked out when other people were going out.”
And, in the end, it all worked out.
The First Settlers had a great year, too, going 21-3 (after a 4-11 season in 2014) with what Carver called the best defensive team he has ever coached.
“I can’t sum up our season in one word,” Southold first baseman Dylan Clausen said. “I can write a whole essay on what our season was.”
Perhaps two state champions from the same town was asking for a lot, but the Tuckers and the First Settlers sure gave their fans an awful lot to cheer about.
Bob Liepa is the sports editor of the Suffolk Times. He can be reached at [email protected].