Freshman battery powers Tuckers

Port Jefferson’s Mollie Gibson brought in a run for her team after Mattituck catcher Brittney Tumulty caught a late throw.

The Mattituck High School softball team has placed a great deal of trust in the hands of two freshmen. When they are on the field, every pitch starts with Sara Perkins and many of them end up in Brittney Tumulty’s catcher’s mitt.

Both ninth-graders are finding their way in their first varsity season on a team that consists mostly of freshmen and sophomores. Although this is the first time that Perkins and Tumulty have played together on the same school team, they have been teammates on a summer league team for the past couple of years. This battery could be together for the next three years, so how well they progress could go a long way toward determining how the Tuckers do.

Perkins, a right-hander, first started pitching when she was in sixth grade. She spent the last two years on the junior varsity team. Perkins, who also plays for a travel team, the Long Island Sharks, has a variety of pitches to work with. She throws a fastball as well as a changeup, curve and drop, and has showed poise against varsity competition.

Perkins is no surprise. Mattituck Coach Kelly Pickering knew what she had in Perkins, who had played for Pickering one year when Pickering was the JV coach.

“Each game you see a little bit of an improvement,” Pickering said. “She’s got an array of pitches that we can choose from, and it’s only going to get better from here. She definitely feels the pressure, and she’s dealing with it as best she can.”

Perkins has learned quickly that varsity pitching is a different ball game than what she had been accustomed to. Spotting pitches is vital at this level, where the batters are more advanced. “If I throw a pitch that moves, they know how to hit it better, and I have to hit my spots better,” she said. “Throwing it over the middle of the plate isn’t going to cut it anymore.”

Perhaps the most impressive showing by Perkins so far came in a 15-2 defeat of the Southold/Greenport Clippers earlier this month. Perkins fanned six batters in a row during one stretch and recorded 10 strikeouts in tossing a two-hitter.

“I try to just think [about] one batter at a time, and get through one batter,” she said.

Then there are inevitably going to be days like Saturday for the young pitcher, whose record dropped to 2-3 with a 13-2 loss to the Port Jefferson Royals, the defending Long Island Class C champions. Perkins gave up six earned runs, 11 hits and four walks against six strikeouts over seven innings. She threw 123 pitches and went over 20 pitches in each of three innings.

“You just got to stay focused on your pitches,” Pickering said. “Sometimes she’s got to pull [more] weight than the other players.”

Perkins, who said she enjoys the thrill of being involved in every play, looks at this season as a learning experience. “I think I’ve held my own,” she said. “I’ve done pretty good… and I think next year it will just keep getting better.”

Tumulty made a big jump, skipping the JV level altogether and going straight from the junior high school team to the varsity. The varsity team needed a catcher with the graduation of Katie Comando and knee trouble experienced by last year’s JV catcher, Jackie Drake.

“Going from not even playing on JV to the varsity, it’s a very different feel for the game,” Tumulty said. “Now… jumping up to this level, everyone’s so much better.”

Often playing against more experienced players, Tumulty understands the value of heads-up play.

“The big change is you have to know the pitches,” she said. “You have to know who’s on base and what’s going to happen next. You have to know what’s going on.”

Pickering said: “Brittney’s really stepped up. She’s starting to work on low balls, and she’s got to work a little more on moving back and forth. She’s getting there.”

The funny thing about Tumulty is she never really wanted to be a catcher, it just sort of happened. “I started being a catcher in third grade,” she said. “I hated it.”

Tumulty said she disliked the position so much that she wouldn’t tell coaches on teams she joined that she was a catcher. The secret didn’t last long, though. She said friends would rat her out.

What did Tumulty have against catching?

“I think it was all equipment,” she said. “I had a bad experience getting hit in the head with the bat. I have a very low tolerance for pain.”