Something was different when the Mattituck High School baseball players stepped onto the field for their first preseason practice on Monday afternoon. It went beyond the fact that the Tuckers did so for the first time as defending state champions.
It was also the first time in six years that they did so without a first-string shortstop named Marcos Perivolaris.
Perivolaris was a five-year starter at that critical position and Mattituck’s captain the last two years. After helping the Tuckers drive to their first New York State Class B title, the all-state player is now playing for SUNY/Cortland.
“Marcos, he was everything,” Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro said. “He was everything we needed. He was the smartest ballplayer we might ever [have] had out there, knew what he was doing all the time, knew what everybody else was supposed to be doing. He led by example and by words, and he was the leader.”
That leader is gone, and the Tuckers need a new shortstop.
Enter Matt Heffernan.
Heffernan, a junior, was the starting shortstop for the 15-2 junior varsity team before being pulled up to the varsity team for the playoffs. As a pinch runner, he stole a base and scored a run in the 4-1 win over Livonia in the state final.
Now it appears as if Heffernan, the proud owner of a state championship ring, will have the first crack at winning the starting shortstop job.
“I’ve been working my whole life for this,” he said of the opportunity.
Asked about the shortstop situation, DeCaro said: “We’re hoping that we don’t have to worry about this too much. It’s not written in stone. It’s his job to lose, let’s put it that way.”
Another possibility is Jon Dwyer, a versatile senior who played mostly second base and right field last year, but also saw some time at shortstop when Perivolaris pitched.
A third shortstop, freshman Mason Kelly, is expected to play for the junior varsity team.
It’s fair to say that Heffernan will be filling some big shoes.
“He’s really nervous right now,” said DeCaro.
Or is he?
Asked if it is intimidating to be following in Perivolaris’ footsteps, Heffernan, wearing a red SUNY/Cortland pullover, answered: “No, not at all. I’m ready to go. As I said, I’ve been waiting for this forever.”
Projected as a top-of-the-order hitter, Heffernan is a left-handed batter who throws right-handed. He has quickness, too, said DeCaro.
“Scrappy, I guess I would say,” Heffernan said, describing himself. “I love to hit. I love to field.”
Last year Heffernan put up a .544 batting average with 25 runs scored for the junior varsity team. He also spent a good deal of time around Perivolaris, practicing alongside him and learning from him. “Marcos has been a good mentor for me over the years,” said Heffernan.
Having the athletic Dwyer as an option is a big plus. Dwyer, who DeCaro last year called the best No. 9 hitter in Suffolk County in a lineup that was loaded with good hitters, hit .377, drove in 14 runs and scored 20.
But Dwyer’s role has been enhanced.
“He’s always been a support guy,” DeCaro said. “Now he’s a star.”
“He’s certainly not afraid of pressure,” the coach continued. “He’s big time, but now instead of being a nine hitter, he needs to be a three hitter.”
Mattituck has plenty of talent, including last year’s state Class B player of the year, pitcher/center fielder Joe Tardif, catcher Mike Onufrak and pitcher Christian Figurniak. Now, it’s a matter of matching up some players with positions, including shortstop.
“It’s going to be a big spot to fill,” Dwyer said. “I think we can do it. We have a lot of good talent on this team. We just got to figure out which man goes which place. These first three weeks we’ll get a feel for where everyone belongs.”
Photo caption: The starting shortstop job is Matt Heffernan’s to lose, said Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro. (Credit: Garret Meade)