MARINERS 10, TUCKERS 1
In one of those interesting twists of baseball fate, the Southampton Mariners and the Mattituck Tuckers crossed paths once again — this time on the final day of the regular season for both teams.
Back on April 4, Mattituck overcame a 3-0 deficit to post a 5-3 victory over Southampton, leaving the Mariners with their fifth loss from as many games. A whole lot has happened since then. Both teams — heading in opposite directions — went through spells that defined their season.
Thanks to its 0-5 start, Southampton found itself in a big hole, yet somehow managed to climb out of it. Coach Ike Birdsall recalled telling the Mariners following that loss to Mattituck in early April that they needed to win 11 of their remaining 15 regular-season games.
That’s exactly what they did.
Wyatt Schmidt pitched a three-hitter and John Donovan slammed a three-run homer as Southampton won its third straight must-win game, 10-1 over host Mattituck on Thursday, to clinch a playoff berth.
“It was destined to happen,” Schmidt said. “Eleven and four, that’s a great record. We just had to make all the plays, and we started hitting after the first five [losses]. We just put it all together.”
While Southampton (11-9 overall and in Suffolk County League VIII) managed a remarkable turnaround, Mattituck (9-11, 9-11) took a turn for the worse. The Tuckers, who were 9-5 at one point, had already been eliminated from playoff contention. They needed to win two of their final six games in order to secure a postseason berth, but lost all of them.
What went wrong?
“I can’t say,” designated hitter James Finora said. “I have no idea.”
Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro had one. “I think we kind of just ran out of steam right here,” he said, “and [Southampton is] still going forward.”
Right into the playoffs for the second time in three years.
Facing its biggest game of the year on Thursday, Southampton put the ball in the hands of a pitcher who had injured his arm during off-season workouts in the winter and wasn’t even expected to play this season. But Schmidt (3-2) was up for the challenge. The junior right-hander recorded eight strikeouts and walked four.
The first hit off Schmidt came on a one-out single that Chris Dwyer stroked to center field.
The only run Schmidt allowed came on a leadoff home run by Finora in the fourth, his first of the year. Southampton already had seven runs in its favor by that point.
The only other hit Mattituck managed was a one-out single by Marcos Perivolaris in the seventh.
Schmidt, pitching into the wind, also worked himself out of some semi-jams. Following Finora’s homer, Cameron Burt drew a walk, sending Birdsall to the mound to have a talk with Schmidt. Schmidt then struck out the next three batters, bouncing back from a 3-0 count on the last of those.
“An amazing job,” Birdsall said. “With this wind, it has got to be tough to find the location. Pitchers would much rather pitch with the wind [than against it]. I think he did a heck of a job keeping the ball, locating it down. Mattituck’s got a bunch of good hitters on their team. They were pretty much flustered except for that one really good hit” by Finora.
With the shifting wind doing crazy things with fly balls, it wasn’t an easy day for outfielders, yet Schmidt received some big help from one of them. Justin Christensen, a little-used player who was substituted into the game in center field, preserved what at the time was a two-hitter for Schmidt by making a great diving catch of a ball hit by Anthony Williams for the first out in the bottom of the seventh.
Schmidt also enjoyed plenty of offensive support. Donovan’s second home run of the season highlighted a four-run third for Southampton that also included a run-scoring single by Jake Macano. Donovan finished with three hits on the day.
Alex Soyars and Teague Florio each had two hits, a run batted in and two stolen bases for Southampton. Soyars scored three runs.
In addition to banging out 11 hits, Southampton stole nine bases.
Mattituck fell two wins shy of a playoff spot, but DeCaro likes how the future looks for his team, which played two freshmen (Dwyer and Perivolaris) and two sophomores (Burt and Brian Pelan).
Thursday’s game was the last in a Mattituck uniform for six seniors: Nick Bieber, Dylan Goguen, George Lessard, Travis Zurawski, Finora and Williams. Those seniors will take away plenty of memories with them.
“I had a lot of good times,” Finora said. “We worked hard, just like we would any other season. It ended in disappointment, but nothing was especially different. Each year we want to win. Each year we’re working hard.”
In the wake of another defeat, DeCaro was able to keep things in perspective.
“As I tell the guys, it’s nice that you win and stuff, [but] more important, we have a great time together, and that’s the sad part right now,” he said. “Our time is over.”