BASEBALL PREVIEW: The new kids in League VIII expect to compete

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Tom Ascher, who plays shortstop and pitcher, is one of Mattituck's three returning all-league players.

Typically, new high school varsity baseball teams take minimal expectations into a season. Not the Greenport Porters.

Despite fielding their own varsity team for the first time in at least 22 years, the Porters believe they can compete for the Suffolk County League VIII title and a place in the playoffs. For one thing, with last year’s League VIII champions, the Center Moriches Red Devils, moving up a league, the race is seen as an open one. For another, the Porters have one of the top players in the county in Shaun Hansen. And, finally, they have some other talent to work with that could make this a happy spring in Greenport.

“There’s a lot of things I want to say [about] what we could do, but I don’t want to jinx anything right now,” Hansen said. “I just want us to be what we can be. We’re a great team on paper. If we live up to those expectations, anything is possible.”

Greenport and Southold had shared a varsity baseball team from 1990 to 2009. Last year Southold fielded a varsity team while Greenport played a junior varsity team that went 8-12.

Hansen, a senior who transferred from Southold High School to Greenport High School in January, played for the consolidated Southold/Greenport team for three years before playing for the Southold team last year. He was an all-county player who put up outstanding statistics in 2010: a .450 batting average, five home runs, 30 runs batted in and 20 walks. Hansen is projected to head a starting pitching rotation that will include Mark Pagano and Bryant Rivas. When Hansen is not pitching, he will play first base or third base.

Pagano, a junior who also plays shortstop, and junior catcher/third baseman/outfielder Michael Reed both hit over .500 and were the leading run-batted-in producers for last year’s junior varsity team. Sean Charters, a junior utility player, had a .470 batting average.

The 13-player roster includes five other seniors besides Hansen. Alex Hands, a first baseman, is the grandson of former major league pitcher Bill Hands. Outfielder Peter Anderer, pitcher Brian Lehmann and infielder Nate Reese are the other 12th graders.

Also on the team are a sophomore, pitcher/infielder/outfielder Matt Dibble, and two freshmen, outfielder/pitcher Brian Tuthill and third baseman/outfielder/pitcher Austin Hooks.

The Porters can be expected to run. Last year’s JV team stole over 100 bases.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Greenport Coach Mike Reed said he likes the attitude and versatility of his players.

Coach Mike Reed, who played for the Porters before graduating in 1980, likes the versatility of his players. “It’s like a machine,” he said. “If you move one piece out, I have another piece that fits right in, and that’s what I like about this. I could put anybody in any place.”

Coach Reed also likes the attitude of his players. He pointed to the team motto, scrawled on a chalkboard in the coach’s office: “What Can I Do To Help My Team Win?”

“I have no egos with these guys,” Mike Reed said. “All these guys, they’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win. It’s refreshing.”

The Porters sound eager to see the first pitch thrown.

Said Mike Reed, “Honestly, I can’t wait to hear, ‘Play ball!’ ”

Qualifying for the playoffs had been a customary thing for the Mattituck Tuckers, who had reached the postseason in Steve De Caro’s first six years as their coach. And then there were the past two years when the Tuckers packed away their equipment at the close of the regular season. De Caro would like to see the Tuckers (5-15 last year) return to their old ways.

The team’s newest members will have a lot to say about that.

“It’s going to be how the new guys fit into the scheme of things,” said De Caro, who brings a 98-87 (.530) career record into his ninth season. “We’re depending on the seniors. We know what they’re going to do. It’s the new guys. Are they going to step up and take over?”

Mattituck lost five starters, but it does have three returning all-league players in senior catcher Greg Siliris and senior twins Steve and Tom Ascher. Siliris led the team last year with a .346 batting average and had a pair of home runs. The Aschers will be in the starting pitching rotation. Steve Ascher, who also plays first base, went 3-2 last year, recording 53 strikeouts in 63 innings. Tom Ascher, a shortstop when he’s not pitching, hit .310.

And then there is another quality senior, speedy center fielder/pitcher Yianni Rauseo. All four seniors are entering their third varsity seasons.

Also bringing varsity experience are three juniors — catcher/designated hitter Nick Bieber, pitcher/shortstop Travis Zurawski and pitcher/first baseman James Finora.

The new additions are outfielder/pitcher John Schultz, pitcher/third baseman Ryan Finger, second baseman George Lessard, outfielder Kiernan Nish and infielder Anthony Williams.

“I would hope that we would be in the playoffs,” De Caro said. “I’m going to say that I would be very disappointed if we were not in the playoffs this year, but we will see.”

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Kyle Clausen, a junior shortstop/pitcher, is one of Southold's few veteran players.

It’s a situation that’s bound to make any coach feel uneasy. With the exception of three returning starters and one transfer, the Southold First Settlers (7-10) are composed entirely of newcomers to the varsity level. Some players have made the big jump straight from the junior high school team.

But as time goes by, Coach Mike Carver likes more and more what he sees. “The more I’m seeing them play,” he said, “the more I’m feeling confident that we’re going to be competitive.”

Two all-league players lead the team, junior shortstop/pitcher Kyle Clausen and third baseman Andrew Conway, the team’s only senior. “Andrew Conway is one of the most improved players I ever coached,” said Carver.

Luke Hokanson, a junior second baseman, was the third player in Southold’s starting lineup last year.

Matt Stepnoski, a freshman pitcher/center fielder/first baseman, is a transfer from Bishop McGann-Mercy.

Four juniors are looking to make their way — pitcher/first baseman Will Fujita, outfielder Matt Reilly, infielder/outfielder Zach Depaulis and outfielder Chris Boltierri.

Carver said four or five freshmen might find themselves in starting positions. Among that pool of ninth graders he has catcher Anthony Fedele, utility player/pitcher Robert Mahoney, outfielder Kenji Fujita and outfielder Anthony Esposito to choose from.

“Real young, which I kind of like because it’s not like I have inexperience,” said Carver, whose 10-year career record is 121-76 (.614). “These kids have been playing baseball a lot. … It’s just a matter of how fast they mature. That’s going to measure our success. The key to our success is our youth. We have to depend on young freshmen. We have to step up and step up quick.

“This year moreso than ever we are really functioning as a team. We have no superstars; we have good, solid baseball players, and that’s the way I want it and the way I like because we’re all depending on each other. That’s a real team.”

It will be an opportunity for young players to make a mark for themselves.

“No matter what we get out of this year, whether we end up in the playoffs, whether we win every game, whether we lose every game, only positive things are going to come out of this year,” Carver said. “That’s the way I look at it.”

[email protected]