SUFFOLK COUNTY CLASS B TOURNAMENT | RED DEVILS 9, TUCKERS 3
After the first two games of the best-of-three series to determine the Suffolk County Class B baseball champion, this much is known: Both Center Moriches and Mattituck have fight in them, not to mention an ability to forge a big rally for a comeback win.
The top-seeded Tuckers showed their mettle in the playoff opener on Monday by plating all five of their runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Chris Dwyer delivered a walk-off single for a 5-4 triumph. Pretty impressive stuff.
Not to be outdone, though, No. 2 Center Moriches then showed what it can do to pull out a victory. Putting the disappointment of the first game behind them, the Red Devils, who trailed through the first five and a half innings on Wednesday, ran up a seven-run burst in the sixth for a 9-3 victory at Center Moriches High School.
“What we took from Game 1 with that loss is it’s not so much we’re upset about it as anything can happen,” Center Moriches coach Dennis Donovan said. “I think that was the mind-set with them. You’re down, but anything can happen. We witnessed it.”
The result sets up a decisive third game in Mattituck on Thursday. While the Tuckers (19-3) are seeking their fourth county championship in 12 years, Center Moriches (14-7) is bidding for its first county title in a decade.
Wednesday’s game started well enough for the Tuckers, thanks in part to Joe Tardif’s pitching. Tardif had nine strikeouts, allowing four hits and one walk over five innings. Coach Steve DeCaro said Tardif was running out of steam, though, and that’s why he moved him to center field before the fateful bottom of the sixth.
Tardif left the mound with the Tuckers holding a 3-2 lead. It didn’t last long.
The first three Center Moriches batters that inning reached base, setting up a big rally in which the Red Devils jumped on pitches for six hits. It was the first of those hits that put Center Moriches ahead. Anthony Maag had struck out in his first two at-bats, once for the third out with the bases loaded. Maag said that on his third trip to the plate, his goal was to “just make contact and put the ball in play.” He did. The sophomore drilled a single past diving third baseman Will Gildersleeve to bring in two runs.
“It was kind of like a domino affect,” Maag said. “After one person gets a big hit, everyone feels that energy and then they just keep getting big hits.”
The rest of the runs that inning were scored with two outs. Stephen Bryant knocked a two-run single that landed just inside the left-field line. Daniel Franchi socked a run-scoring triple for his second run batted in. Michael Colombi drove a run-scoring triple to the center-field fence. Colombi later scored on a passed ball, making it 9-3.
“It really looked like we were going to win this one, and then, I don’t know, something in their bats just came alive,” said Mattituck first baseman Ian Nish.
Baseball can be a crazy game. Things can change quickly. It’s one of the sport’s charms.
“That’s why it’s still the greatest game in the world,” DeCaro said. “We’re on Cloud Nine one day and then we came back [down to earth] the next day. That’s the way it is.”
After Tardif led off the seventh with a liner to center field, Colombi (7-1) retired the next three batters (two on strikeouts) to end it. Colombi finished with nine strikeouts against three walks. The right-hander allowed one earned run and seven hits, including two each to Tardif and Ian Nish.
The Tuckers scored all three of their runs with two outs. They enjoyed an encouraging start, putting up two runs in the first. Dwyer walked and later scored on an errant throw before James Nish blasted a triple for the second run. Gildersleeve bounced a run-producing single in the fourth to make the score 3-1.
Sacrifice flies by Patrick Bryant and Franchi brought Center Moriches its second and third runs.
The result snapped Mattituck’s seven-game win streak. Two of Mattituck’s three losses this year have come to Center Moriches.
“We feel like no matter how far we go in the playoffs,” Ian Nish said, “Center Moriches is going to be the toughest one to beat.”
For Center Moriches to be able to rebound from a tremendously difficult loss is impressive. Donovan said, “The way we put it, we were planning on winning today anyway.”
Maag said: “It doesn’t matter the order that we win the games. It just matters that we win two.”