As the game progressed the weather got colder, but Joe Tardif was warming up.
Opening Day 2016 brought plenty of sunshine, but a lot of wind, too, which made the temperatures hovering around 50 degrees feel considerably colder.
That cold admittedly bothered Tardif, the Mattituck pitcher who might also have had objections that some of his low pitches weren’t being called strikes.
It was an unusual sight. For the first few innings, Joe Tardif didn’t look like Joe Tardif. The 2015 New York State Class B player of the year surrendered some walks and hits, the most noteworthy being a pair of nearly identical home runs by Southampton’s Chad Pike in his first two at-bats of the season. Both balls landed in nearly the exact same spot beyond the right-field fence.
It was through three innings, with Mattituck trailing by 3-1, when the thought might have occurred to the Tuckers that opposing teams aren’t going to bow down to them just because they are defending state champions.
“We knew coming into the season that we were going to have a big target on our backs, and that showed,” Mattituck catcher Mike Onufrak said. “They came out gunning for us.”
And then the Tuckers responded like champions as the winds of change blew another direction.
Tardif found his rhythm and Mattituck’s bats went to work with a six-run rally in the fourth inning of a 9-3 defeat of visiting Southampton. The first of 20 regular-season games is in the books as a “W” for the Tuckers.
“That’s the way we played last year,” Onufrak said. “It’s just Mattituck baseball.”
Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro is well aware that it would be a feather in a team’s cap to beat the Tuckers.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to bow down to us,” he said. “That’s OK, because they think that we graduated everybody, but they’re in for a rude awakening.”
Mattituck gained separation in the fourth when four of its six runs were unearned. Two errors prolonged the inning, which saw five hits, including a two-run single that Joe Graeb bounced along the third-base line and a run-scoring double driven by Tardif.
“We finally decided to turn it on,” said Tardif.
Tardif the pitcher bounced back after seeing Pike’s two homers. Pike (three runs batted in) had one homer last season, and it also came off Tardif.
“I mostly just go for singles up the middle, trying to hit the ball hard,” Pike said. “He gave me two pitches, both inside. I’ve been working all year for those.”
Still, Tardif is tough to beat. The senior righthander persevered, allowing six hits over six innings, with three walks and six strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches, hitting a batter with one of them.
“Chad got a piece of Joe today, but Joe held on,” Onufrak said. “He came back. Joe gets hit hard sometimes, but he knows how to be a pitcher. He knows how to come back from things like that.”
Tardif also had some help from his friends. Matt Heffernan, Onufrak and Victor Proferes each had a pair of hits to go with an RBI.
In the seventh, Tardif moved to center field while Tyler Williams retired all three batters he faced that inning to wrap things up.
Isn’t it nice to come from behind and win?
“It’s nicer to win when it’s 15-nothing,” DeCaro said. “The coach doesn’t get stressed out at all. That’s the nicest kind of win.”
Another nice thing, DeCaro said, is Opening Day.
“After 32 years, still exciting,” he said. “Opening Day baseball is just a tremendous day. It’s exciting to be in the building. Everybody gets excited for baseball.”
One down, 19 to go.
NOTES: First-string second baseman Ryan McCaffrey spent the game sitting in a chair behind the backstop with his right foot in a cast and crutches nearby, timing pitchers with a radar gun. About two weeks ago, McCaffrey broke his right ankle while getting out of a car. The junior said he will be out for 10 to 12 weeks. Jon Dwyer, who can play virtually any position, played second.
Photo caption: Mattituck’s John Lisowy was called out on a tag by Southampton shortstop Chad Pike in the second inning. (Credit: Garret Meade)