PANTHERS 14, TUCKERS 8
The Mattituck Tuckers knew that, one way or another, their softball season would come to an end on Wednesday. That didn’t prevent them, however, from trying to delay the inevitable for as long as they could.
For the first four and half innings at Mattituck High School, the Suffolk County League VII game was going the way one might have expected of an undefeated league champion (Babylon) and a team that sits at the bottom of the league standings (Mattituck). Having taken a 13-1 lead by then, Babylon was only three outs away from recording a win by the 12-run mercy rule. It looked like it was going to be another one of those days for Mattituck.
Not so fast.
The Tuckers, including their five 12th-graders who were recognized before the game in a Senior Day ceremony, did not want their season to finish that way, and they did something about it. They mounted an unlikely seven-run rally against one of the best teams in the county in the fifth inning to make things interesting, taking the game to a full seven innings before finally succumbing, 14-8. It was the most runs Mattituck has scored in a single inning this year.
The rally gave the Tuckers (1-16, 1-15 Conference IV) something to feel good about in light of their seventh straight loss.
“They showed a little heart,” Mattituck coach Rick Hinrichs said. “They didn’t want it to end. I told them: ‘This is it, guys. It’s 13 to 1. If we don’t score, it’s over,’ and they scored and they scored and they scored.”
Mattituck had managed only two hits off pitcher Tiana Giuliano through the first four innings. Babylon (17-0, 15-0), holding a safe lead, eased up on the Tuckers and made six substitutions.
After Babylon put up three runs in its half of the fifth, Mattituck needed to score a run in the bottom half to keep the game going beyond five innings. The Tuckers got seven runs from six hits and two errors, Babylon’s only miscues of the game.
During that stretch, the Tuckers reached base in 10 straight plate appearances. The most memorable of them all was a three-run triple that Megan Conklin clocked to deep right field. “That felt really good,” she said.
Among the other hits were run-scoring singles by Melissa Siegfried (two runs batted in), Kaitlin Perino and Alexa Orlando (two hits). By the time Babylon recorded the third out, throwing Jackie Jones out on a close play at home plate when she tried to score on a wild pitch, Mattituck had made it a five-run game. The Tuckers were playing with renewed confidence.
“I know we can hit,” Conklin said. “Sometimes we’re just not into it, and then some innings like that one we are.”
If an undercurrent of concern was running through Babylon at that point, it had good cause to be. The Panthers had a lot at stake. They are pursuing their first undefeated regular season in team history. That will become a reality if they win their final regular-season game tomorrow against Mount Sinai.
“We subbed six girls in, but you know what, you still got to make the plays,” Babylon coach Rick Punzone said. The Tuckers “still hit the ball. … They showed character and they came back.”
The Panthers might have been reminded of 2003 when they were chasing an undefeated season before losing their final game of the regular season to Mattituck in extra innings.
Babylon had some good innings of its own on Wednesday. The Panthers scored in every inning except the seventh. They registered four runs in the fourth and had three-run rallies in the first and the fifth.
Nicole Marro, Marisol Rivas, Giuliano and Michelle Mangini had two RBI apiece for Babylon. Miranda Richards scored three runs.
Babylon’s history is a proud one. The Panthers have won five league championships and four county titles in the past 12 years. An undefeated regular season would be nice for the Panthers, but Punzone has other prizes in mind as well.
“It would mean a lot,” he said. “I would rather win a Long Island championship or a Suffolk County championship. … It’s nice, it looks great, it’s fancy, but the bottom line is you’re measured by Long Island championships, you’re not measured by an undefeated season.”
No one has to tell Mattituck second baseman Jackie Hinrichs how good Babylon is. “No doubt about it, they’re the best,” she said. “They have pitching, they have hitting. Everyone can hit on that team, and their defense is perfect.”
Defense was a difference-maker. The Tuckers matched Babylon in hits (nine for both sides), but suffered too many self-inflicted wounds. They committed 10 errors.
If good hitting is contagious, so is poor fielding. The Tuckers had three errors each in the first and third innings.
“That killed us this whole season, not just this game,” said Jackie Hinrichs.
Jackie Hinrichs, the coach’s daughter, was among the seniors honored before the game — along with Corinne Araneo, Christina Fosolino, Conklin and Perino — in an emotional ceremony. Rick Hinrichs said it’s a good group of seniors who deserved a better fate this season.
“It’s been bittersweet,” he said of the season. “It was nice seeing the kids come together. It was sad seeing them leave. Some tough, tough games, and they fought through it, they stayed together and they stayed happy. In the end, that’s what’s most important.”