The mere mention of that name is enough to send shudders through the Mattituck baseball team.
It was Briarcliff that denied Mattituck of a place in the New York State Class B semifinals last year. The Tuckers lost to Briarcliff, 9-8, in the Southeast Region final after a dropped fly ball allowed the winning run to score with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
It was a gut-wrenching ending to an otherwise wonderful season for the Tuckers, who went 20-6. Even now, nine months after the fact, the defeat still stings.
“We don’t really like to talk about it, but it was pretty rough,” said junior pitcher Ryan Finger.
The loss stuck with senior pitcher Travis Zurawski as well. Zurawski went 4 for 4 with a double and two runs scored in that game. “It was my best game and it was a heart-breaker,” he said. “I thought about it the entire off-season, what went wrong. I played it over and over again in my head, the situations we could have changed, what I could have changed and how the outcome would have been different.”
Perhaps what hurt most of all for the Tuckers was that the game marked the end of the high school careers of Mattituck’s four seniors: twins Steve and Tom Ascher, Yianni Rauseo and Greg Siliris.
“We knew that our time together was over,” coach Steve De Caro said. “… That was the saddest part.”
Mattituck also said goodbye to a tremendous starting pitching staff of the Aschers and Rauseo. Steve Ascher, the ace who now plays for Oneonta State, posted an 11-1 record, a school record for the most wins in a season by a pitcher.
Perhaps the Tuckers were spoiled when it came to pitching, especially Steve Ascher’s pitching. “You know you’re going to win” when Steve Ascher is pitching, De Caro said. “The question is: Is it going to be a no-hitter?”
The Tuckers return 11 players, but a new starting pitching staff must be assembled.
“I could say: ‘Oh boy, I wish Steve was here. I wish Tom was here. I wish Yianni was here,’ ” De Caro said. “But it’s so much more fun to get new guys.”
De Caro doesn’t sound concerned about the pitching situation. In fact, he said he liked what he saw from some of his pitchers in Tuesday’s practice.
As of now, Mattituck is looking at a four-man rotation that would include Zurawski, Finger, junior John Schultz and sophomore Cameron Burt. All four are right-handers. Burt was brought up to the varsity team for the playoffs last year after dominating at the junior-varsity level.
De Caro said he watched them play summer ball. “They’re ready to go,” he said. “These guys have seen [playing] time. Now they’re just going to see it on a different stage. They’re going to be starters instead of relievers.”
For relievers, Mattituck can turn to three righties — freshmen Marcos Perivolaris and Chris Dwyer and sophomore Brian Pelan. Another freshman, James Nish, caught De Caro’s eye by the way his curveballs hooked like a whiffle ball during an intrasquad scrimmage on Tuesday.
“They just need innings,” De Caro said of his pitchers. “As long as they throw strikes, and that’s the big thing, I think, this year. As long as we don’t give up free passes, we’re going to make teams have to hit with those new bats.”
De Caro was referring to the BBCOR bats that are being implemented in high school baseball this year. The bats have less life in them than the aluminum bats that have been used in the past and are more like wood bats.
Mattituck hopes its new pitching staff as well as the new bats will have the desired affect on opposing offenses.