New York State will have a new Class B baseball champion.
A state championship can be a fragile thing. It unquestionably takes a wealth of talent to win one, but a team also needs to get hot at the right time. A little luck here and there along the way doesn’t hurt, either.
As impressive as Mattituck was during the regular season, winning its third straight league title and going 18-2, the Tuckers ran into trouble in the playoffs, going 1-2. Top-seeded Mattituck was dethroned by No. 4 Center Moriches, 7-3, in a Suffolk County elimination game that took 10 innings and 2 hours 54 minutes to settle on Monday.
The end of the road for the Tuckers came on their home field in Mattituck, not in Binghamton where they wanted to lift the state championship plaque again. That’s the problem with reaching the top of the mountain one year and then not making it the next. It’s quite a fall.
“The playoffs are a whole new ballgame,” coach Steve DeCaro said. “We all live for the playoffs, and we just didn’t step up. It’s kind of sad.”
A bunt may be part of small ball, but Center Moriches’ bunting was big. After a leadoff walk by Center Moriches’ Liam Pulsipher to start the 10th inning, Justin Wilson popped an unusual bunt over third baseman Bryce Grathwohl’s head. No play could be made on the ball. Then a bunt by David Falco was fielded by relief pitcher Victor Proferes, whose throw to third base wasn’t in time for the forceout.
With the bases loaded, Center Moriches (12-9) went to work. The team’s leadoff hitter, David Franchi (4 for 6, three runs batted in), belted his second double of the day, scoring two runs to snap a 3-3 tie. Ryan Vetack followed up by bringing a run in with an infield single. Later, Nick Fiscina knocked a hard liner past the diving Grathwohl for a 7-3 lead.
“We couldn’t defend their bunt, and we couldn’t bunt ourselves,” said DeCaro.
In the bottom of the inning, Mattituck managed to load the bases before Grathwohl flied out to center field on a 3-2 pitch, ending the game, and Mattituck’s season.
It closed the curtain on the high school careers of Mattituck’s eight seniors, including players like second baseman Jon Dwyer, catcher Mike Onufrak and center fielder Joe Tardif, the state Class B player of the year in 2015.
“My whole career went as fast as a blink of an eye,” said Tardif, who first joined the team as an eighth-grader. “It felt like yesterday I was in ninth grade saying, ‘I’m so happy I have three more years of this.’ Today I’m saying, ‘I’ll never play high school sports again.’ ”
Center Moriches, which advances to play No. 2 Babylon Tuesday, is the only team to have beaten Mattituck twice this year. What’s the secret?
“I wish I knew,” Center Moriches coach Dennis Donovan said. “They’re an awesome-coached team. He’s probably the best coach on Long Island right now. We were able to just get one more hit today. That was really it.”
Mattituck never led Monday and continually seemed to be playing catchup. After Franchi’s RBI double in the third, Mattituck evened the score that same inning on a Proferes RBI single, but left the bases full.
Dylan Heinz landed a two-out, two-run single into right field for a 3-1 Center Moriches lead in the fourth. Mattituck drew within a run in its half of the fourth when Tardif scored on an error.
Mattituck forced extra innings by producing a tying run in the seventh. Dwyer’s ground-rule double and Proferes’ bunt single set up a sacrifice fly by James McDonald.
Center Moriches overcame five errors with smart pitching from Ryan Adell, who allowed one earned run and six hits over four and one-third innings.
Dwyer took a bright view of things when it was over.
“We’re going to have so many memories from this,” he said. “You know, it’s sad right now, but when I look back, it’s a fun year. We could have done better but, hey, we could have done worse. I love every guy on this team. No matter what, we’ll still be a team.”
A 3-1 loss to Babylon on Saturday dropped Mattituck into the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament. Monday’s defeat was the coup de grâce.
Before heading for a postgame meeting with his players, DeCaro said, “We’re going to say in a few minutes that our time has come to an end, and that’s the worst part about it.”
Photo caption: Jon Dwyer strokes a leadoff double for Mattituck in the seventh inning. (Credit: Garret Meade)