PORT JEFFERSON — The box score never lies, but it doesn’t always tell the entire story of a baseball game.
Take, for instance, the Southold First Settlers’ 8-5 loss to the Port Jefferson Royals on Tuesday. The box score says the Royals rallied for five runs in the fifth and sixth innings to turn around a 4-3 deficit.
But the First Settlers (4-9, 4-7) said they lost the Suffolk County League VIII game in the early going, leaving runners in scoring position in the first four innings.
“You know, what? That’s the one part of the game I was telling the guys,” Southold Coach Mike Carver said. “That’s what makes the difference in these close games. … The first three innings we had runners in scoring position with the top of the order up and we can’t just knock them in. We haven’t been able to produce.”
What made it even more frustrating was that Southold got the lead-off hitter on in every inning but the fifth.
In the first, Luke Hokanson reached third base getting hit by a pitch and a two-base error by winning pitcher Alex Tsunis (5-0).
In the second, pitcher Kyle Clausen was stranded at second after his double.
In the third, Robert Mahoney (hit by pitch) and Hokanson (single) reached base with no one out, but ended the inning at third and second, respectively.
The First Settlers scored four times in the fourth, punctuated by freshman center fielder Matt Stepnoski’s two-run double, but stranded runners at second (Stepnoski) and third (Will Fujita). They left eight runners on base for the game.
“We could have had three times the amount of runs,” Clausen said. “That’s what we have to capitalize on. The next game, that’s what we have to focus on — bringing home the runs in crunch time with the clutch hits.”
“If you don’t capitalize, it’s going to come back and get you because you might not be able to capitalize at the end of the game,” Stepnoski said. “We can’t hit sometimes in clutch situations. We have to get it into our heads that we can because we have a mentality that we’re not going to get a hit.”
Port Jefferson (8-4, 8-2) built a 3-0 lead with a run in the first and two in the third by cashing in on its opportunities before Southold scored four runs in the fourth while taking advantage of three errors.
But the Royals demonstrated why they are tied for the league lead with the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs. They took the lead for good, 5-4 — Mike Toffales scored the go-ahead run on Drew Crovello‘s single — in the fifth. Billy Crowe led off a three-run sixth with a home run.
“They hit the ball very well,” Clausen said. “Every one of their hitters, one through nine, is very competitive in hitting.”
The First Settlers are a young team. They have only one senior, third baseman Andrew Conway, and McCarver has liked what he has seen.
“Did I expect to be somewhere around this? Yeah, I did,” he said. “Could we have won a bunch of more games this year? Yeah, these are close games. These aren’t the kind of games you look at your youth and say, ‘Ah, they’re just young.’ They hung in. We lost a close game. They’re growing.
“That was my goal this year: see these kids grow. The question is how fast they can grow. They are hitting the ball. We’re not getting blown out. These are close games. They can go either way. … They played well. I can’t be upset with them. I’m proud of them.”
Clausen, a junior, was optimistic as well.
“It was definitely our best game team-wise, even though it wasn’t a good outcome,” he said. “The bad outcome was that we lost. The good outcome was that we can fight back and play and be competitive against a very competitive team like Port Jeff. It’s going to show for us next year. Next year is going to be our year.”