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08/01/18 9:01am
08/01/2018 9:01 AM

Matt Stepnoski didn’t have to think long when he was asked what he has learned the most about playing in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League this summer.

“I’m not as good as I think I am,” he said. “It’s humbling. You see a lot of kids from all over the country and you realize you’re a small fish in a big pond. It’s a good humbling experience.” READ

08/09/13 11:10pm
08/09/2013 11:10 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Anthony Fedele of the Mattituck Ospreys taking a cut during his team's semifinal win over the Massapequa Cyclones.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Anthony Fedele of the Mattituck Ospreys taking a cut during his team’s semifinal win over the Massapequa Cyclones.

Joe Tardif’s glove, Matt Stepnoski’s bat and Cameron Burt’s right arm.

All three factored prominently Friday as the Mattituck Ospreys advanced to the Boys of Summer Baseball League 18-and-under National Division championship game with a thrilling 1-0 semifinal victory over the Massapequa Cyclones.

It was a defensive play more than anything else that this game will be remembered for. The Ospreys’ swift center fielder, Joe Tardif, may have saved the game — and the season — for his team with his tremendous running catch for the game’s penultimate out.

With the Cyclones trailing with one out in the top of the seventh inning at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic, Matt Diesel drove a hard-struck fly toward the outfield. To some it may have looked like extra bases, but not to Tardif, who said he read the ball well off the bat before making the catch at full speed about a step away from the center-field fence.

“I’ve never seen anyone make a better catch in my entire life,” said Burt, the Ospreys’ pitcher, who went the full seven innings for a six-hit shutout and 10 strikeouts. He did not issue a walk, and hit one batter.

“We say that when the ball is smoked to center field, you can start coming in if there’s two outs because that’s what Joe does,” said Ospreys manager John Tardif, who is Joe’s father. “That’s why he’s out there.”

Joe Tardif, who rated the catch as “probably” the best he has ever made, said he felt sure he would get to the ball; his only concern was he wasn’t quite sure where the fence was. “I didn’t know where the fence was until I turned around and I hit it,” he said.

The next batter flied out, and the top-seeded Ospreys bought themselves a ticket to Monday’s championship game against either the North Shore Cougars or the Long Island Titans Gold in Peconic.

The Ospreys, who are in their first year in the league, finished the regular season in first place, and may have taken teams from larger towns by surprise. John Tardif called the league “the top high school prospect league on Long Island.”

With 10 players from Mattituck, Cutchogue and Southold, two from Shoreham-Wading River (Jack Massa and Chris Moran) and two from Westhampton, the Ospreys are what their manager referred to as a “true community team.”

And they sure can play.

Their semifinal opponent was hardly a slouch. The Cyclones, with players from Massapequa High School’s recent Nassau County Class AA champion team, were tough. A half-dozen or so of them are headed to college baseball in a couple of weeks.

Among the more impressive Cyclones was their pitcher, Rob Fitzpatrick. Over six innings, the left-handed sidearmer limited the Ospreys to three hits. He had seven strikeouts with one walk.

“Definitely a tough pitcher to hit,” Stepnoski said. “He’s coming in sidearmed with a low, tailing fastball. It was hard to see and hard to catch up to.”

But Stepnoski eventually did catch up to a two-out, two-strike fastball from Fitzpatrick in the sixth, socking a double to the center-field fence and scoring Tardif from second base. Tardif had reached base on the game’s only error.

“He had me on my heels and just put a fastball up there, tried to blow it past me, and I got it,” said Stepnoski, who has batted anywhere from ninth to fourth in the batting order this summer, but was in the cleanup spot on Friday.

The Cyclones had put runners on second and third in three innings, only to come away empty-handed each time as Burt got out of trouble. He escaped the first inning with a groundout that stranded two runners, was directly involved in a rare 1-1-5 double play to end the fourth, and produced a huge strikeout to finish the fifth with two runners in scoring position.

“You can’t forget Cameron Burt,” Stepnoski said. “He threw an amazing game.”

Defense has been the Ospreys’ strength, and that Tardif catch was a genuine web gem. But as his manager and father will tell you, more than speed was involved in that play.

“He’s fast, but he’s field fast,” John Tardif said. “Some guys are fast from point A to B, but he reads the ball instantly, and that’s the key. If you hesitate at all on that ball, I don’t care how fast  you are, you’re not catching it. He’s been doing that all season long for us, as have all the rest of our players. This is a defensive team, the likes of which I haven’t seen. … For people who love defense, this is a fun team to watch.”

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GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck Ospreys manager John Tardif confers with players, including Cameron Burt and James Nish.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck Ospreys manager John Tardif confers with players, including Cameron Burt and James Nish.

03/23/13 4:36pm
03/23/2013 4:36 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold's Anthony Fedele making contact during his team's season-opening win over The Stony Brook School on Saturday.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold’s Anthony Fedele making contact during his team’s season-opening win over The Stony Brook School on Saturday.

FIRST SETTLERS 10, BEARS 3

All one had to do was watch a single at-bat by Matt Stepnoski to appreciate what he brings to the Southold baseball team.

It was the bottom of the fourth inning of the season-opening game against The Stony Brook School on Saturday. The bases were loaded for Stepnoski when he stepped into the batter’s box. That’s when the cleanup hitter, well, cleaned up.

With one mighty swing, Stepnoski ripped a scalding line drive that skipped by the center fielder on the short hop. The first base coach, Joe Andrejack, waved on Stepnoski to head for second base. As Stepnoski rounded first, he glanced up and saw the center fielder chasing after the ball.

“I thought maybe double or triple at the most,” said Stepnoski.

So he kept running. By the time Stepnoski approached third base, Southold coach Mike Carver was sending him home for the fourth run on the play, which gave the First Settlers a 9-3 lead.

After the hustling Stepnoski crossed home plate, he laid down on the grass behind the team bench, catching his breath.

“I was out of breath,” he said. “I got to get the stamina up.”

Stepnoski hastened to add, “It felt good.”

The play — the highlight in Southold’s 10-3 win in the Suffolk County League IX game on its home field — was scored a single and a three-base error. Stepnoski might have deserved a grand slam for his effort, but he wasn’t complaining.

That single play said a lot about Stepnoski as a player. The senior center fielder is tremendously talented, and his work ethic on the field may be second to none.

“Matty really came up big for us today,” said Anthony Fedele, who was Southold’s starting pitcher in the game before later moving to catcher. “He hit a wonderful base hit. He’s a solid player. It’s great to have him here, it really is. And he hustles. He always tries 100 percent.”

Stepnoski’s play wasn’t the only thing for the First Settlers to feel good about. They produced six runs that memorable inning, the other runs scoring on bases-loaded walks by Sean Moran and Dylan Clausen.

Offering his postgame assessment, Carver said: “We were good enough to win, but not good. We hit O.K., but the defense has to be more crisp. I hate sloppy baseball. We always say, ‘Simple things perfect,’ and we were far from that today.”

Certainly, there was sloppiness. Signs of early-season rust could be seen, with the teams combining for 10 errors, seven by Stony Brook.

Still, heading into the new season with only one scrimmage behind them, the First Settlers were missing three players who were in Europe on a school trip: Shayne Johnson, Tom Messena and Alex Poliwoda. Five First Settlers made their first varsity starts: the catcher, Moran; left fielder Noah Mina; first baseman Chris Reilly, right fielder Kevin McGough and second baseman Timmy Stankewicz. Clausen, an eighth grader, also made his varsity debut, coming off the bench to pick up his first varsity hit, run, run batted in, walk and stolen base.

“To start the season with a win is wonderful,” Fedele said. “If we’re playing this well already, once we get the rest of our team back … we’ll be doing really good.”

Stony Brook, which looked improved from last year’s 0-20 team, opened the game with two runs from a two-out rally in the first inning. Pat Ruffer bounced a run-scoring single up the middle, and Tyler Hoegsberg rapped a run-scoring single to left field.

Stony Brook scored its final run in the fourth on a walk by Ben Walter with the bases loaded.

Stony Brook coach Kyle Cavanaugh said his team is better this year. “The team culture has been changing over the past couple of years, guys who are really coming out, working hard, playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and we still have a ways to go,” he said. “We got a lot of work to do. We have to clean some things up. We’re encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.”

Southold didn’t wait long to respond with four runs in the bottom half of the inning. Rob Mahony led off, looping a single to center field. He later scored on a balk. Moran scored from third base on an errant pickoff attempt, Fedele raced home on a fielding error, and Stepnoski scored on a groundout by Mina for a 4-2 lead.

“That’s big,” Carver said. “That’s a positive to take away from today.”

The first four Stony Brook outs came on strikeouts fired by Fedele. The right-hander allowed three hits and two earned runs over four-plus innings, walking four and striking out seven.

Southold also caused damage on the basepaths, going 9 for 9 in stolen-base attempts. Fedele, Stepnoski, Anthony Esposito and Mina had two steals each.

Esposito, playing third base, turned in the defensive gem of the game, making a great leaping grab of a humpback liner hit by Erik Holvik for the third out in the sixth.

Southold players said they were eagerly awaiting the start to the season.

“I just want to keep playing,” Stepnoski said after Saturday’s win. “I could play another game right now.”

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