Perhaps there was a question in other people’s minds over who would be the Mattituck Tuckers’ starting pitcher on Sunday, but Steve Ascher was never in doubt.
Asked if there was any chance that someone else would be on the mound at the start of the Long Island Class B final, Ascher simply replied, “No.”
Ascher wasn’t going to let the fact that he was working on only two and half days rest prevent him from pitching in the biggest baseball game of his life. The senior left-hander had pitched last Thursday, throwing five innings in a 25-6 blowout of the Babylon Panthers. After that game, while the rest of the team went out to dinner to celebrate, he stayed home and iced his arm. In fact, he spent several hours over the next couple of days icing his arm, trying to get ready for the Long Island Class B final against the Oyster Bay Baymen.
Apparently, Ascher did a great job of icing his arm, almost as good as the pitching performance he turned in on Sunday. He tossed a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts as Mattituck romped, 8-0, to the Long Island championship at Farmingdale State College.
After Ascher (11-0) struck out the side for the second time in the game to end it, the Tuckers threw their gloves high in the air and charged toward the mound for the celebratory pile-on.
“It’s my best pitching this year,” said Ascher, who didn’t issue any walks. “I don’t know. I guess it’s just adrenaline.”
Mattituck (19-5) advances to a Southeast Region final on Tuesday against the winner of Monday’s Spackenkill-Briarcliffe game. The site of the regional final hasn’t been decided yet.
The loss snapped a 22-game winning streak by Oyster Bay (22-2), which made its fourth appearance in a Long Island final. In the 2008 final, the Baymen beat Mattituck on Billy Clark’s seventh-inning, walk-off grand slam. Mattituck catcher Greg Siliris, the only remaining team member from that game, remembers it only too well. He said he had a nightmare about it on Saturday night.
But then Ascher turned in an outing that was a dream come true. He was the clear choice for player of the game honors on Sunday. Using his fastball to spot the outside corners, Ascher looked sharp, striking out seven different batters, including two three times and one twice.
“On only two and a half days of rest, it’s really amazing,” Mattituck center fielder Yianni Rauseo said. “You can’t ask for Steve to do any more. I was a little worried. I thought he might not have enough velocity on his fastball, but he did.”
Ascher retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced (one reached base on an error) before giving up Oyster Bay’s only hit. Dillon Robinson banged a one-out single to left field in the top of the fifth inning. By that time, though, Mattituck held a 6-0 lead.
Oyster Bay Coach Jay Davis told reporters before the game how important it was for his team to score first and score early. He didn’t get his wish.
Mattituck took a 3-0 lead in the first, with all three runs scoring on one swing by Rauseo. After Travis Zurawski lined a single that second baseman Cassidy Exum got a glove to but couldn’t keep in the infield, Tom Ascher rapped a lined single and Siliris was hit by a pitch. That set the table for Rauseo, who cleared the bases, slapping a 3-2 pitch for a double that landed near the left-field line and kept bouncing while Blake Meyer chased after it.
Steve Ascher looked sharp as usual, striking out six through three innings. The senior left-hander used strikeouts Nos. 4 and 5 to get out of potential trouble in the fourth. That inning started when Will Treiber led off by reaching second base on a throwing error. But then Steve Ascher made a lunging grab of a Phil Mihlstin bunt for the first out before fanning the next two batters.
“Imagine if he was fresh,” Mattituck Coach Steve De Caro said. “We’ve seen him pitch some beauties. You saw the play he made on the bunt. That’s just something that we’re used to seeing here.”
Siliris said Steve Ascher still surprises him on occasion.
“He ticks me off a little bit sometimes,” the catcher said. “It will be an 0-and-2 count. I’ll call a curve or a slider, and he shakes me off, shakes me off. He wants a fastball, and I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m giving him the fastball. They’re going to hit it.’ He just blows it right by the kid.”
Mattituck got some unexpected help in the fourth when it tagged on three more runs. Steve Ascher led off by taking a base after he was hit by a pitch. The next batter, Nick Bieber, popped up a foul ball that the third baseman dropped. Given a second chance, Bieber slugged the next pitch for a single to center field. Later, Steve Ascher scored on a bunt single by John Schultz, Marcos Perivolaris singled in a run, and Shultz scored on a balk.
Still, the Tuckers weren’t done. They stretched their lead to 8-0 in the fifth, which Siliris led off by hammering his fourth home run of the year well over left field. Later in the inning, Rauseo scored on a groundout.
But this game was about Steve Ascher.
“There was never a doubt that he wanted the ball,” De Caro said. “He would never accept that somebody else was going to pitch today. We’ve been telling people all year what a great athlete and pitcher he is, and hopefully he showed it today.”
Mattituck’s next opponent will likely see an Ascher, but that would be his twin brother, Tom.
Steve Ascher, with a smile on his face, declared, “I’m not pitching Tuesday.”