This past July the Southold High School baseball coach, Mike Carver, was driving home with his wife, Jeanne, and their daughter, Meghan, from a horse show in Vermont. They were on back roads, trying to find their way to the New York State Thruway.
“The GPS took me some route I never went before,” Carver said. “All of a sudden we come through this town, and I say, ‘You got to be kidding me.’ Hoosic Valley. And then there’s the sign: ‘Home of the 2015 state champs.’ ”
That would be the same Hoosic Valley that topped Southold, 2-0, in an epic 10-inning state Class C semifinal just a month earlier.
“I had to chuckle and smirk and laugh and get disgusted all at the same time,” said Carver.
For the first time since Southold lost what is believed to be the first state semifinal it ever played in, Carver unzipped his baseball bag on Sunday night. What he found were a half-eaten Granola bar, a half-empty water bottle and photos from the team’s regional championship. Some good memories were in that bag.
The defending Southeast Region champions began the load road they hope will return them to the state semifinals with their first preseason practice on Monday. Carver spent part of the practice driving ground balls to infielders. That is fitting, because it was stellar defense that enabled the First Settlers to reach such lofty heights last year, and that defense began with drills such as the ones they went through on Monday.
“It started with practice,” senior catcher Greg Gehring said. “Carver was hitting us ground balls. Repetition after repetition, and … after a while, it just became like second nature to do.”
Sound defense took Southold far. In that state semifinal, Southold fell into jams in five innings, yet managed to escape unscathed each time, thanks in part to three double plays.
“Defense kept us in games, and that’s what we worked on in practice every day,” said senior middle infielder Noah Mina.
Carver expects another strong defensive team this year, despite losing four starters to graduation in Shayne Johnson, Sean Moran, Alex Poliwoda and Liam Walker.
Perhaps the primary concern right now surrounds the question of who will succeed Johnson, who was a three-year starter in center field. Two juniors, Matt Cardi and Doug Fiedler, are under consideration.
Carver said he would stack his middle infield of Pat McFarland and Mina up against any other team’s shortstop-second baseman combination. Southold also has a number of pitching arms to choose from with McFarland, Dylan Clausen, Luke Hansen, Gehring and Fiedler among them.
Carver said his team philosophy of doing simple things perfect remains intact.
What affect will last year’s success have on this year’s team?
“It’s making me hungry again,” Carver said. “It better make these guys hungry. I’m running out of years.”
Photo caption: Noah Mina is part of a middle infield that Southold coach Mike Carver said he would stack up against any other team’s shortstop-second baseman combination. (Credit: Garret Meade)