After stealing second base, Yianni Rauseo trotted off the field, pointing to his right pinky as an explanation for what was wrong. Not that he had to point. Fingers aren’t supposed to stick out that way, at a 90-degree angle.
The grisly injury — the result of a head-first slide about two-thirds of the way through last year’s high school baseball season — was more than just that, though. It marked the beginning of the end for Mattituck’s 2010 season.
“At that point, we kind of knew it was over,” said Mattituck Coach Steve De Caro.
De Caro and his assistant coach, Gene Rochler, had figured the Tuckers would go as Rauseo goes. That appears to be the case this season, only with different results. Whether batting, playing center field or pitching, a healthy Rauseo has been a tremendous boost for the Tuckers, who are contending for the Suffolk County League VII championship.
Thursday, though, marked a departure from the how Rauseo goes, the Tuckers go theory. The senior pitched a respectable five innings and went on a hitting tear against the Mount Sinai Mustangs. Unfortunately for the Tuckers, he was the only one.
Mount Sinai clinched a playoff berth for the 12th consecutive year with a 4-1 victory at Mattituck High School that split the two-game series between the teams.
“It’s a good run,” said Mount Sinai Coach Eric Reichenbach, whose team bumped up its record to 10-6, 10-5. “We’ve been blessed with some talent throughout the years.”
Replacing three Division I players from last year and losing four of their first five games hasn’t been easy, but the Mustangs will continue their tradition of postseason appearances.
“Every year we look to work hard and make the playoffs as a reward,” Mount Sinai third baseman Mike Donodio said. “It’s very important. That’s what our whole season’s about. Now we’re just going to move forward.”
Joe Pidoto picked up his fourth win in six decisions, throwing a six-hitter with eight strikeouts and no walks for the complete-game victory. He was supported by 10 hits, including Matt Esposito’s first home run of the season. Mike Donodio went 3 for 4 with a double while his brother, Mark Donodio, drove in two runs and had two hits for the Mustangs. Floyd Iavery added two hits for the winners.
The Mustangs played a clean game, with no errors or mistakes. “We played mistake-free baseball, and it was just a pleasure to watch,” said Reichenbach.
The only run Pidoto conceded was a leadoff home run by Rauseo that tied the score at 1-1 in the second inning. Rauseo smoked the ball over the left-field fence for his fifth round-tripper of the season. It was the start of a 3-for-3 day for Rauseo, who also blasted an infield single off Pidoto’s glove in the fourth and shot a ground-rule double in the seventh.
Mount Sinai snapped a 1-1 tie in the third. Following a walk by Doug Putkowski and a single that Mike Donodio laced to left-center field, Mark Donodio knocked in the go-ahead run by hitting into a fielder’s choice.
The Mustangs made it 3-1 when Esposito’s long ball opened the fourth.
Further insurance followed in the fifth. Mark Donodio connected for double down the right-field line before later scoring on Danny Paray’s sacrifice fly.
Playoff-bound Mattituck, which started the day tied with the Elwood/John Glenn Knights for first place, saw its record go to 14-3, 12-3. The most excitement that the Tuckers experienced on the day was the two hours they spent outside before the game when the school building was evacuated because of a bomb scare.
Mattituck Coach Steve De Caro said the league title, which would be his team’s second in four years if it materialized, takes a back seat to going far in the playoffs.
“I’m going to say it’s really almost an afterthought,” De Caro said. “Coming in first would be nice, but being the number one seed in the playoffs and then winning the playoffs, that’s more important to us.”
Having a player of Rauseo’s ability makes things easier. As described by De Caro, the soft-spoken Rauseo is a pleasure to coach and a joy to watch with the sort of speed that quickly eats up ground when he patrols the outfield or races along the basepaths.
“If we had two of him, we’d only have to put two guys in the outfield,” De Caro said. “He’s like a deer out there. We pretty much know that when a ball is hit to Yianni, we can look away because he’s going to catch the ball. That’s our guy. I think he’s one of the best athletes to come through Mattituck in a long time.”
Rauseo, who is hitting around .465, is a candidate for the league’s most valuable player award along with teammate Steve Ascher and Tim Caputo of Elwood/John Glenn.
Not only that, but Rauseo is applauded for his character as well. Every Wednesday he is given a half-hour off from practice so he can drive a mentally-challenged neighbor to work.
Rauseo, who wants to play baseball at SUNY/Oswego, said he doesn’t try to pull the ball as much as he used to and is willing to go to the opposite field.
The youngest of four brothers, all of whom played baseball, Rauseo said, “Every single one of them won a county championship, and that’s what I’m really hoping for right now.”