It’s not every day that Mattituck High School drives 44 miles to play a home baseball game.
Then again, it’s not every day the Tuckers get an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot while playing at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip — home of the Long Island Ducks.
They did just that by playing small ball — scoring their runs on only two hits — and taking advantage of a solid pitching performance by Bryce Grathwohl in a 3-1 League VIII victory Wednesday over John Glenn.
The Tuckers (10-6) qualified for the county Class B tournament for the sixth consecutive time.
“I’m just excited to get to play more baseball,” said first baseman Tyler F. Olsen, who was on base three times and scored twice. “I’m excited to try to redo what we did last year.”
That’s when Mattituck reached the state semifinals.
“It’s just a big relief to get that off our shoulders,” Olsen said. “Now we focus on trying to finish the season strong and make some noise in the playoffs.”
With four games remaining in the regular season, the Tuckers can plan ahead.
“Now we can start looking at our future a little bit more,” coach Steve DeCaro said. “We can start talking about who’s going to do what in the playoffs. We saw some issues today that we’ve got to change.”
Just getting a chance to play at the home of the Ducks, who compete in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, was a rare treat.
“In a high school career, this is like once in a lifetime,” Grathwohl said.
“It was a real cool experience,” said Olsen, who with catcher Ryan Mahon played at Citi Field with their travel baseball team. “It was like playing on a real MLB stadium. It’s just a different experience you see on TV. Now you get to actually live it.”
Playing at the Ducks’ home came from Glenn coach Matt Rocchio.
“It was really nice on his part offering us to play one of our league games here,” DeCaro said. “And how could we turn that down?
“For me, just being a place where Bud Harrelson was around is special,” DeCaro added about the former Mets shortstop who is a Ducks co-owner. “It’s such a beautiful park, unbelievably kept. We know that the Ducks are coming home this weekend, their first home series. We’re honored we got to work things out for them.”
The Tuckers made the most of their hits against left-hander Chris Spalding.
Olsen, who singled, scored in the first inning on Mahon’s single to right after taking second on an error and reaching third on the first of his two stolen bases.
In the fifth, Mattituck added two runs without a hit. Olsen led off with a walk, reached second on a Grathwohl’s grounder that shortstop Danny Corazzata booted and stole third. Grathwohl stole second before Sam Dickerson popped out to first.
Mahon, the No. 5 hitter, was asked to lay down a squeeze bunt that drove in two runs.
“I think that’s the first squeeze sign I have ever gotten in my life,” he said.
It was a perfect bunt. Spalding threw to second baseman Joe Patane covering first, but the latter’s throw was not in time to catch Grathwohl who motored home from second.
“We do it occasionally,” DeCaro said. “We got to when we need it. It was nice to see our guys can play small ball when we have to.”
Grathwohl scattered seven hits while striking out 11 and walking one. He pitched in and out of trouble, leaving two runners stranded in the first inning and the bases loaded in the third.
The right-hander got stronger as the game went on, retiring 11 out of 12 batters (seven on strikeouts) before Rocco Fratarcangeli led off the seventh with a triple. Grathwohl fanned two batters before Matt Polestino’s infield single drove in the Knights’ (2-14, 2-14) lone run. Grathwohl induced Patane to ground out to end the game.
“I hate when people get hits off of me or walk,” Grathwohl said. “That focuses me more, makes me mad. For some reason it makes me pitch better.”
Added Mahon: “He just had grit, wanted to win. His stuff was good. He also battled.”
That was fine with DeCaro.
“He turned it up when we needed him, reached back a little, threw a little bit harder,” he said. “At the beginning he was having a tough time with their mound. It’s beautiful. High school guys are not used to that. Once he got used to it, he just turned it up.”
Top photo caption: The Mattituck baseball team poses for a photo after a 3-1 win Wednesday against John Glenn at the home of the Long Island Ducks. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)