The Mattituck baseball team hadn’t lost consecutive games all season, let alone back-to-back days. And they had lost only twice against a pitcher not named Liam Pulsipher dating back to mid-April.
So there was plenty of reason for optimism as the Tuckers returned to their home field Wednesday afternoon for a winner-take-all finale to the Class B county championship. At stake was a chance for redemption, an opportunity to reclaim a title that the Tuckers believe they never should have relinquished last year.
With Pulsipher, the Stony Brook University-committed ace for Center Moriches in center field rather than on the mound, the Tuckers’ bats quickly went to work against the Red Devils’ right-hander Andy Auffant.
The Tuckers struck for runs in the second and third en route to a 6-1 victory that clinches Mattituck’s third county championship in the last four years.
“All of us have been playing together since we were little kids and it’s just great that we can pull this one off,” said shortstop Matt Heffernan, who doubled twice with an RBI and run scored.
The Tuckers (17-6) advance to the Long Island Championship June 1 against either Osyter Bay or Wheatley at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. The second-seeded Wheatley won the first game of the best-of-three series Tuesday against Oyster Bay.
For Mattituck, there was never any doubt that after Tuesday’s shutout, the offense would come alive Wednesday.
“Yesterday we ran into a train called Liam Pulsipher,” said Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro. “He couldn’t pitch today and we happen to have a couple guys who can pitch.”
The Tuckers got a superb outing from the right-handed Bryce Grathwohl, who has thrown in the No. 2 spot in the rotation all year. He scattered four hits and struck out eight, walking just one.
Grathwohl said his two-seam fastball was effective along with his off-speed pitches. DeCaro also credited the work of catcher Ryan Mahon to call the pitches.
“It’s nice when the pitcher doesn’t have to think for himself and the catcher does the work,” he said.
On the final at-bat of the game, Grathwohl fielded a short ground ball in front of the mound and calmly threw to first baseman James McDonald (2-for-3). The celebration was on as Grathwohl and Mahon embraced between the mound and home plate as their teammates quickly rushed toward them.
It was the sixth time Mattituck and Center Moriches faced each other this season and each team won three games.
For as well as the Tuckers had been hitting, the game was still just a one-run game entering the bottom of the sixth. The Tuckers had left runners on base in each of the first five innings and were waiting to finally break through.
Heffernan thought back to last year’s elimination game against Center Moriches (16-8) when the Tuckers lost in extra innings. They didn’t want to see the game extend that far again.
In the sixth, they put the game away with a four-run inning to give Grathwohl a comfortable lead for the final inning.
Sam Dickerson (2-for-3 with a double) led off the sixth with a double and later scored on a Jason Scalia single to give the Tuckers a 3-1 lead. Jon Lisowy, Ryan McCaffrey and Heffernan drove in the remaining three runs.
“We attacked the strike zone pretty well today,” DeCaro said. “And more importantly, we hit all over the place. A lot of guys hit opposite field. It was nice to see.”
The Tuckers got contributions from throughout the lineup. Seven players recorded a hit and the two players who didn’t each picked up an RBI. Grathwohl, who batted cleanup, went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a double.
DeCaro said he wanted to his players be more aggressive at the plate.
“I think we were a little passive yesterday,” he said. “It also came from being off for almost a week. I think we needed to swing the bats again and yesterday was a good warm-up.”
The Tuckers grabbed the early lead in the second and the Red Devils answered with their lone run in the top of the third. Mattituck quickly regained the lead in the bottom half of the inning when Grathwohl doubled to right field scoring Heffernan.
Two runs was all Grathwohl would need.
Top photo caption: Mattituck pitcher Bryce Grathwohl and catcher Ryan Mahon celebrate the team’s county championship after the final out Wednesday. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)