It’s good to be young, it’s good to be experienced and it’s good to be good.
The Mattituck High School baseball team appears to be in the fortunate position of being all of the above.
The evidence is compelling. Not only do the Tuckers return eight starters, but six of those eight are underclassmen. The team has 11 returning players, including the whole starting infield and two-thirds of the outfield from last year’s 15-9 team, which made a deeper run into the Suffolk County Class B Tournament than any other team aside from champion Southampton.
All of that usually adds up to a winning season.
“They’re expecting to win, and everyone in the school is expecting them to win,” said coach Steve DeCaro, who takes a 142-113 (.557) record into his 12th season.
As far as talent is concerned, the Tuckers are loaded. Ian Nish, a junior first baseman, was an All-County player and winner of League VIII’s Silver Slugger award, which goes to the best hitter in the league as voted by the coaches. He had a .451 batting average, 5 home runs and 30 runs batted in. Nish’s 18 doubles were the third-most ever in New York State history, according to DeCaro.
Four other players — senior pitcher Cameron Burt (6-3, 1.52 earned run average), senior catcher Brian Pelan (.371, 17 RBI), junior shortstop Marcos Perivolaris and sophomore outfielder Joe Tardif — were All-League selections. Batters hit .164 against Burt, who fired 70 strikeouts in 60 innings.
And that’s not to forget the presence of other veterans like these three juniors: second baseman Chris Dwyer, third baseman Will Gildersleeve and left fielder James Nish (.305).
Outfielders Austin Pase and Dylan Williams also offer varsity experience, as does infielder Jon Dwyer.
Three new players have been added to the roster: catcher Mike Onufrak, outfielder Tyler Webb and outfielder/pitcher Ben Knowles.
One piece of bad news came when Pelan separated his left shoulder just two days before the start of preseason practice. But even that is tinged with the encouraging news that Pelan is expected to be eligible to play in a week or so.
Burt remains the ace of the pitching staff. James Nish, Tardif and Chris Dwyer are competing for the No. 2 spot in the rotation that was vacated with Ryan Finger’s graduation. Perivolaris is the third starting pitcher, said DeCaro. DeCaro said how the rest of the pitching staff shapes up after Burt is critical.
The Tuckers will face some tough competition from Center Moriches, Babylon and Southampton, but DeCaro likes what he has seen from his players so far.
“They’re hitting the ball pretty well,” he said. “They’re working really hard. They’re guys that love baseball. That’s what I like the most.”
This is the season Southold had been looking forward to. Young players have become seasoned veterans, and now Southold has one of the most complete teams it has fielded in recent memory.
“On paper we all look good,” coach Mike Carver said, “but on any given day, how are you going to perform?”
That is the question. One is likely to lean toward a positive response. Looking at his lineup, Carver said, “I can’t see a hole right now.”
The First Settlers (14-9) are stocked with talent. Eight starters from last year’s playoff team are back. The team’s senior captains, catcher/pitcher Anthony Fedele and shortstop/pitcher Rob Mahony, were All-League players last year as were junior third baseman/pitcher Alex Poliwoda, sophomore infielder Noah Mina and junior center fielder Shayne Johnson.
Johnson will help with his legs as well as his glove and bat. “If he gets on base … it’s a triple,” Carver said. “He is that fast.”
And more veteran know-how comes from catcher/second baseman Sean Moran, first baseman Chris Reilly and Anthony Esposito, who can play left field, third base and handle some relief pitching.
Carver said he is unsure whether he will bring two freshmen onto the team, outfielder/first baseman/relief pitcher Dylan Clausen and infielder/pitcher Pat McFarland. Clausen played for the junior varsity team as a seventh- and eighth-grader, and McFarland played J.V. ball as an eighth-grader. Also in the mix are outfielders Anthony Siracusano, Tim Stankiewicz, Robert Toman and Ryan Harroun.
The starting pitchers are Mahony, Poliwoda and Fedele. “They’re all interchangeable,” said Carver.
Carver, who has a 158-105 (.601) career record entering his 13th season, isn’t worried about offense. Defense, he said, will be critical, but he doesn’t sound too concerned about fielding, either. “The infield should be tight this year,” he said. “All the guys can field well. Ground balls should be outs.”
Carver said all his players will contribute. “We not me; that’s our slogan,” he said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”
Because Shelter Island and The Knox School dropped their teams, League IX has been left with only five members: Greenport, Pierson/Bridgehampton, The Stony Brook School, Smithtown Christian and Southold. It could be a memorable season for Southold if it finishes at the top of that list.
“It should be a good year,” Carver said, “but on paper everything looks good.”
As miserably cold as the weather for these preseason practices has been, Greenport coach Chris Golden said he has been enjoying his time with his team. “They’re funny,” he said. “We laugh.”
For good reason, too. All signs are pointing toward better days ahead for the Porters (6-14). The roster is exclusively composed of seniors and juniors.
“In a small school, that is almost an anomaly,” said Golden.
Among Greenport’s eight returning players are a pair of All-League picks: Christian Angelson, a senior catcher/outfielder, and Matt Drinkwater, a junior pitcher/infielder.
A big plus for the Porters is the return of senior shortstop Brian Tuthill, who missed last season because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder. His presence should help clean up some of the sloppy fielding that hurt the Porters last year.
“Brian Tuthill has definitely surprised me,” Golden said. “It’s almost like the time off has helped him get better. He’s really looked good at shortstop.”
Tuthill helps fortify an infield that, depending on who is pitching, will see Austin Hooks or John Drinkwater at first base, Max Eggiman or Eddie Rogers at second base, and Matt Drinkwater or Angelson at third base. A newcomer, David Krumanacher, is another infielder.
The Porters have plenty of flexibility. Timmy Stevens can play catcher. He is also an outfield candidate along with Ryan Weingart, Jack Volinski, Neville Reece, Rogers and Hooks.
The pitching rotation remains the same, with Hooks and the Drinkwater twins, “in no particular order,” said Golden.
“There’s a level of confidence, which is nice to see, which I didn’t see all the time last year,” he added. “The real key will be how we handle adversity. The first time something doesn’t go our way, how do we handle that? How do we respond to that?”
The Porters will have to be road warriors. Because of a quirk in the schedule, they will play only five home games this season.
Regardless of where they play, though, Golden expects them to exhibit good sportsmanship, something that is always a point of emphasis for him.
“It’s not whether you win or not, it’s how you win,” he said. He added: “It’s very important that these kids conduct themselves so it’s a good, positive image for Greenport and their students. That is paramount to me.”