You can’t tell who the players are without a scorecard. That’s especially true this year with the Southold High School baseball team and its new coach.
A new chapter in Southold baseball opened Monday with the team’s first official practice under coach Greg Tulley. Change is in the air. Tulley, who had coached the junior varsity team the past two years, takes over the varsity squad from Mike Carver, who stepped down after 17 years in charge. In addition, only three players from last year’s team are back.
“A lot of new faces,” said pitcher Billy Burns, who along with the ace of the pitching staff, Luke Hansen, are the team’s only seniors.
After a run of considerable success in recent years, Southold is essentially starting over. Last year the First Settlers went 23-2, won their third consecutive Suffolk County championship and fell one win shy of reaching the state semifinals for the second time in three years. That’s a tough act to follow, particularly for a team with precious little varsity experience.
Tulley said, “It’s a rebuilding year, but I think I’d like to say that we’re going to exceed whatever expectations people might have of us, but I don’t really know what those expectations are.”
About 20 varsity and JV candidates took part in Monday’s practice, which was held indoors since there was no access to the team’s field because of fencing related to construction work on the school’s new track. Pitchers pitched and batters took cuts in the indoor batting cage, working with Tulley and JV coach Craig Jobes.
“We’re not going to be 20 and 0, but I think we can still compete,” Tulley said. “I think we have a chance for a playoff spot.”
Hansen, who went 7-2 last year, is a big part of Southold’s plans. The 6-3 lefthander, who has signed to play for Sacred Heart University (Conn.), had a 7-2 record last year. His earned run average during the regular season was 0.33.
Hansen, who will play centerfield when he’s not pitching, can hit, too. He had a .315 batting average and 16 RBIs.
“I think it’s fair to say that everyone in the room is expecting big things out of Luke on the mound this year,” Tulley said. “And Luke’s going to be an all-around good guy for us, in the batter’s box, centerfield. He’s going to be the leader of our team.”
After popping pitches into a catcher’s glove and then taking swings with a bat, Hansen spoke about the virtually new Southold team. “A whole new team,” he said. “It is very different. I’ve been just trying to work with these guys and try to build a team chemistry, build a bond, really.”
Things will be different for Burns. After pitching only several times for a pitching-rich team last year, he has been thrust into the No. 2 spot in the starting rotation.
Southold has a new catcher-in-training, too. Joe Hayes, the team’s only other returner, had played second base for the Settlers since he was a freshman, but will now be behind the plate.
Although many of the new players may be new to spectators, Tulley said he knows them.
Asked what is important to him, Tulley, a former Smithtown High School and C.W. Post player, answered: “I want kids that want to be here. I want kids to hustle. I’m looking for ability. We have some kids that are raw, so with some good coaching, I think they should be pretty solid players, if not this year then definitely next year.”
Burns said Tulley “knows a lot about the game. He’s very good at [transmitting] that to us, and I think he knows each of us as a person and a personality.”
Hansen said: “He likes to take his time and teach kids. He’ll go step by step with them, show them what they did wrong maybe or how to change this, maybe do this. He lets you make your own decisions, too. He gives you that freedom, which is really cool.”
Day One is in the books, and the Tulley era has begun.
“It’s been an exciting day,” he said. “It’s the first official day.”
Photo caption: Southold’s new coach, Greg Tulley, provides instruction to catcher Joe Hayes during the team’s first official practice Monday. (Credit: Bob Liepa)