It’s an almost impossible pitch to hit, a nasty breaking ball that breaks late. By the time it reaches home plate, the ball is usually in such a location that the batter can do little with it, other than foul it off or tap a weak grounder.
That was the pitch that was working for Steve Ascher on Thursday. The Mattituck Tuckers senior showed confidence in his breaking ball, and wasn’t even afraid to throw it on a full count.
Ascher didn’t cut the Hampton Bays Baymen a break, tossing a one-hit shutout in his team’s playoff opener, a 7-0 win in the double-elimination Suffolk County Class B baseball tournament.
Last week was a rough one for Ascher. He had a viral infection that had weakened him. The left-hander said he didn’t feel good while warming up prior to Thursday’s game at Mattituck High School. He said the movement on his pitches was missing.
That didn’t last for long, though.
The game’s second batter, Justin Carbone, smashed a double over Mattituck right fielder John Schultz. From that point on, though, it was all Ascher.
Mattituck’s pitching virtuoso retired the next 20 batters in succession and brought his record to 9-0, pulling the top-seeded Tuckers (17-4) to within one win of the county championship. Mattituck will face either the No. 2 Babylon Panthers (11-10) or No. 3 Hampton Bays (9-13) on Tuesday.
Mattituck Coach Steve De Caro said Ascher became the first Mattituck pitcher to post nine wins in a season since at least the mid-1970s. He had been tied at eight with Brian Tardiff and Joe Finora.
“That’s pretty good company to be in,” said De Caro.
As for Ascher himself, he wasn’t making much out of his ninth victory. “As long as we win, that’s all that matters,” he said.
Ascher is turning in one of the most remarkable seasons enjoyed by a Mattituck pitcher. “We knew he was going to be good, but he’s been dominating this year,” said De Caro.
Ascher, who entered the game with a 0.42 earned run average, had 10 strikeouts (giving him 98 for the year) and no walks. He used his breaking ball to great effect, striking out seven different Baymen, three of them twice.
Ascher said he felt better by the second inning when his breaking ball turned on.
Is there a different feel to pitching in a playoff game?
“You can’t think about it,” Ascher said. “You just go out there and do what you do.”
Ascher is no stranger to Hampton Bays. Earlier in the season he took a perfect game into the fifth inning against the Baymen, who ended up with only three singles that day and never made it past first base.
“We knew what we were coming into, who was throwing,” Hampton Bays Coach Pete Meehan said. “We were coming here, hoping to win 2-1, hoping to win 3-2. We hit a couple of line drives in the sixth inning. The grass took one away in the seventh inning, but you’re not going to win if you put up a zero.”
The Tuckers did everything right, from Ascher’s pitching to errorless defense to nine hits worth of offense.
Ascher’s pitching overshadowed a four-run-batted-in effort by Travis Zurawski and 3-for-3 hitting by George Lessard.
Zurawski slammed his first career home run, as predicted before the game by the Mattituck athletic director, Gregg Wormuth, who threw batting practice. “Numero uno,” said Zurawski.
It was a three-run blast over left field in the sixth inning, following a leadoff double by Lessard and a walk by Marcos Perivolaris. That made the score 7-0.
If Zurawski was wearing a grin on his face while he rounded the bases, it might have been because he had received a bunt sign earlier in the count.
Lessard had a big game, too. In addition to his three hits, he scored three runs and stole a base.
Mattituck struck for three runs in the second inning. Yianni Rauseo, who led off the bottom half of the inning by laying into a hanging breaking ball for a ground-rule double, later scored on an error. Ascher then followed him home on the next play when Schultz grounded into a fielder’s choice. Four batters later, Zurawski sent a single into the left-center-field gap, bringing home Lessard for a 3-0 lead.
That was all Mattituck really needed with Ascher on the mound.
Zurawski said it was a typical Ascher outing. “The pitching was dominant,” Zurawski said. “You expect that, though.”
Ascher isn’t through putting up numbers, either.
De Caro said, “He’s got at least one more start left.”