TUCKERS 9, ROYALS 0
Port Jefferson batters weren’t the only ones baffled by that pitch that Mattituck’s Cameron Burt was throwing, freezing right-handed hitters and giving them a world of trouble.
One knowledgeable baseball observer said it was a slurve.
Port Jefferson coach Jesse Rosen said Burt showed “a real nice 12-6 curveball for a high school kid, and we had a hard time dealing with it.”
What exactly was that breaking pitch? Go directly to the source, and it still will not do you much good.
“Actually I have no clue what it is,” Burt, a right-hander, said. “I just kind of throw it. I hold it and I throw it. It moves away from righties.”
It moved well enough on Tuesday when Burt and Chris Dwyer combined for a two-hitter as Mattituck clinched a playoff berth by beating Port Jefferson, 9-0, in a League IX game at Scofield-Desiderio Park in Port Jefferson. The Tuckers will return to the playoffs after a one-year absence for their eighth postseason in 11 years.
“We kind of expect it,” Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro said. “It would be the minimum that we would expect of our team, to get into the playoffs.”
After being swept in a three-game series by Southampton, Mattituck bounced back in a big way in the opener of its three-game series versus Port Jefferson. The Tuckers (11-7, 10-6) looked good in all facets of the game, starting with their No. 1 pitcher.
Burt (5-1) worked the first six innings, during which he recorded eight strikeouts and four walks (one intentional). He also hit a batter.
“He ran a lot of deep counts, he walked a couple of guys,” DeCaro said. “He pitched O.K. today. He’s much better than that. He’s been our ace all year. We weren’t even sure we were going to have an ace this year, and he’s been it.”
The only hits Port Jefferson (6-10, 6-10) managed were back-to-back singles by Joe Booker and James Murphy in the third inning.
“He looked fantastic,” Rosen said of Burt.
Mattituck took a 1-0 lead in the third. John Schultz led off by scrambling into second base for a double before later scoring on a groundout by Dwyer.
The Tuckers tacked on two more runs in the fourth through a sacrifice fly by Brian Pelan and a throwing error that allowed James Nish to score. Pelan, who played catcher, returned to action after sitting out a game with an ankle injury.
Pelan is the closest the Tuckers have to an indispensable player. His backup at catcher is, well, Burt. “It’s hard to pitch and catch at the same time,” said DeCaro.
The Mattituck coach liked what he saw from Pelan. “He looked pretty good behind the plate,” DeCaro said. “He threw out a guy stealing, so you can’t ask for much more than that and, as always, he called a good game.”
It was in the sixth when Mattituck really broke the game open with a five-run rally highlighted by Joe Tardif’s two-run single laced into center field and Will Gildersleeve’s run-scoring single to left. Nish and Tardif also scored on two of the four errors by Port Jefferson that inning. The Royals made six errors in the game; Mattituck had none.
Mattituck closed out the scoring in the seventh. Ian Nish led off with a double that landed near the center-field fence. One out later, Ryan Finger lined a single to left, bringing Nish home.
Dwyer retired three of the four batters he faced in the seventh to finish the game.
Certainly, it wasn’t the smoothest of outings for Burt. He had to pull an escape act in the fifth when he hit the first batter, Tyler D’Accordi with a pitch before walking the second, Michael Laffey. After a sacrifice bunt by James Tsunic, Burt intentionally walked Booker to load the bases. James Murphy then bounced into a 1-2 fielder’s choice, and Sam Eagan fouled out to the third baseman, Gildersleeve, ending the threat.
Port Jefferson was already mathematically eliminated from gaining the 10 league wins necessary for an automatic playoff berth, but there is another way for the Class C Royals to get into the postseason.
Asked if he will petition Section XI for a playoff place, Rosen replied, “Yes we are, and if we don’t get in, it’s criminal.”
Port Jefferson missed reaching the playoffs last year by one game, snapping a string of eight straight postseasons for the Royals.
Mattituck is certain that it will be in the playoffs, along with Burt and his mystery pitch.
Perhaps Tardif, the center fielder, could shed some light on why Burt is so effective.
“From center, you can see his fastball,” he said. “It starts on the inner half and goes to the out. It’s like a slider almost. It’s really tough, even in practice, [and] we know it’s coming.”