CENTER MORICHES — As anyone in high school baseball knows, a team needs to hit before it can run, and that was a problem for the Greenport Porters, who took their first steps on Monday.
The Porters learned a few lessons in their first varsity baseball game in at least 22 years. First and foremost, they learned that hitting isn’t easy, especially at the varsity level and especially against a tough pitcher like Pat Bryant.
Bryant, a freshman right-hander for the Center Moriches Red Devils, made his varsity debut a memorable one. He struck out 10 in six innings of work and combined with reliever Steve Ebert to limit Greenport to one hit in the season-opening, non-league game for both teams that Center Moriches won, 4-0. The only hit Bryant conceded came when Michael Reed led off the fifth inning by dropping a single into right field.
Looking composed and unaffected by the cold weather, the 6-foot-3 Bryant threw mostly fastballs, with some effective curveballs mixed in. He threw some first-pitch curveballs and froze some Porters in their cleats looking at pitches for called third strikes. He had three walks, one intentional.
“I didn’t feel that nervous,” said Bryant (2 for 3), who stole a base and was the only player to get more than one hit. “The whole game I just pitched the way I usually do. It worked pretty well.”
Center Moriches Coach Mike Garofola had no qualms about Bryant’s performance.
“To give the ball to a freshman on opening day, sure, is a big honor, but he plays more like an upperclassman,” Garofola said. “He plays with confidence.”
The League VIII Porters showed signs of nerves. They made three errors against the Red Devils, who were League VIII champions and Suffolk County Class B finalists last year and have since moved up to League VII.
One of those errors led to the game’s first run in the first inning. Jeff Foster swatted a one-out single and stole second base. The Porters should have gotten out of the inning unscathed as Greenport’s pitcher, Shaun Hansen, struck out the next two batters. But the catcher dropped the third strike on the second strikeout and threw the ball high over the first baseman and into right field, allowing Foster to score.
Two errors in the sixth helped Center Moriches register the remaining runs. After Foster led off by reaching base on a fielding error, successive singles by Bryant and Mike Colombi brought him home. Bryant then scored on a wild pitch. Colombi scored from third base when Matt Schilling bounced a chopper to the third baseman, who then bounced a throw past the catcher while trying to prevent Colombi from scoring.
Greenport’s failure to produce at the plate wasted a solid performance by Hansen. The senior righty struck out nine, walked none and gave up four hits over five and one-third innings. “My arm felt great,” he said.
The Porters mounted serious threats to score in the fifth and sixth innings, but Bryant got out of those jams, leaving two Porters on base in each of those innings.
After Reed’s leadoff hit in the fifth, he stole second base and then slid into third base after an errant pickoff attempt. Anthony Nichols walked and stole second. One out later, Reed tried to score on a grounder by Brian Tuthill, but was called out at home plate after second baseman Sonny Saguto fired the ball to the catcher, Foster. Then, with runners on first and third, Bryant recorded another strikeout to get out of the inning.
“He doesn’t get rattled,” Garofola said. “He stays around the plate with all his pitches. If you’re going to beat him, you got to beat him with the stick. He’s not going to walk you, so you better be able to swing it.”
Except for Hansen, it was the varsity debut for all of the Porters, including their coach, Mike Reed. Greenport and Southold had shared a varsity baseball team from 1990 to 2009. Last year the two schools went their separate ways. While Southold fielded a varsity team, Greenport played a junior varsity schedule.
“Overall, I’m happy,” the coach said. “You know what? I saw some positive things out here.”
“We’re going to be alright,” he added. “It’s just these guys are going to have to learn this is how it is. It’s not JV. Varsity is another big step.”
Assessing his team’s play, Hansen said, “Definitely some good and some bad, but I think overall, even though nobody likes to lose, it overall came out positive for us because we know what we have to work on in practice tomorrow.”