SOUTHEAST REGION CLASS B FINAL | PANTHERS 3, TUCKERS 0
The first thing one notices about the Rye Neck High School baseball players is their size. They are big, as in tall and athletic.
“Our first baseman, Matt Franks, number 14, he’s had a full beard since freshman year,” pitcher Angelo Spedafino said. “Our catcher [Thomas Pipolo] has had a full beard since freshman year.”
Because of their stature, the Panthers could easily be mistaken for a college team, and they have the talent to match it. It was going to take a team of that caliber to knock Mattituck out of the playoffs, and that is just what Rye Neck did on Saturday.
Mattituck’s dream of a first state championship fell three wins short. In an intriguing matchup of Mattituck’s offensive firepower and Rye Neck’s dominant pitching, it was the pitching that won out.
Spedafino pitched all but the final two outs as Rye Neck held the Tuckers to four hits for a 3-0 shutout in the Southeast Region Class B final at Mamaroneck High School.
“We haven’t scored a hell of a lot, so thank God,” said Rye Neck coach Tyler Slater.
After reliever Chris Pennell got the last two Tuckers out looking at called third strikes, he was mobbed by happy teammates who knew they had earned themselves a state semifinal game next Saturday in Binghamton.
“It’s always fun to dogpile,” Spedafino said. “It really always is.”
The Tuckers (21-4) looked dejected afterward, disappointed in that they had fallen short in their quest of winning a regional title for the second time (1983 was their first and only one).
“There’s no excuses,” Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro told reporters. “They beat us and they played well and we failed to deliver.”
DeCaro said Rye Neck was “probably the best team we’ve seen all season.”
In six playoff games, Rye Neck (24-1-1) has allowed only two runs. That is a good thing, Slater said, because the hitting hasn’t been what he would like it to be.
Rye Neck had only one more hit than the Tuckers, but one of them was Pipolo’s run-scoring double that opened the scoring in the first inning and another was a home run by designated hitter Ryan Aquino in the second.
The Tuckers endured a scare on Pipolo’s double. Pennell had tagged a single before Pipolo sent a shot that left fielder James Nish chased after. With no warning track to alert him, Nish crashed hard, face first, into the fence where it meets a pole. He bounced off it and hit the ground as spectators cringed.
“I hit it like straight on because I was turning to get the ball and then I just put my hand up and when I turned around I hit the fence right in the face. It hurt,” Nish said. “I couldn’t find the ball. I didn’t know where it was. I was dazed.”
Although shaken up, Nish was checked out, took a warmup throw and remained in the game.
The Tuckers might have been shaken a bit when Aquino drove the first pitch he saw from Marcos Perivolaris (7-1) for a home run that bounced off the top of a school building beyond left field, about 340 feet away from home plate.
Later in the inning, back-to-back walks by Chris Cascione and Pennell and a fielding error allowed Cascione to score for a 3-0 Rye Neck lead.
The Panthers managed only one hit the rest of the game, but they already had what they needed thanks to Spedafino’s pitching. Spedafino (6-0), working at a fast pace (the game was over in 1 hour 46 minutes), issued four walks and struck out two.
“He kept us off-balamce, a lot of curves, a lot of low pitches,” Nish said. “I think he got a lot of calls by the ump and some of the pitches were just unhittable.”
The Tuckers were coming off a regional semifinal win over Wheatley the day before, a game in which they had churned out 15 hits and scored nine runs.
Joe Tardif, Nish, Chris Dwyer and Brian Pelan were the only Tuckers to get a hit on Saturday.
“I can’t imagine us coming away with four hits at any time,” said DeCaro.
The Tuckers did bring their gloves, though, and were responsible for a couple of the game’s nicest defensive plays. Running to his right, second baseman John Dwyer left his feet to make an outstanding diving catch of a liner hit by Sam Piliero in the third. Tyler Webb moved over from right field to center field when the starting center fielder, Tardif, relieved Perivolaris. Webb showed he can play center field, too, running back toward right-center and making an over-the-shoulder grab of a ball hit by Spedafino in the fifth.
“I don’t think there are any regrets,” Webb said. “I think we played almost to the best of our ability.”
Pelan said: “In my mind we’re still better than them, but what are you going to do? They got the best of us.”
The Tuckers lose will lose four seniors from this year’s team: Cameron Burt, Austin Pase, Dylan Williams and Pelan, but they will return seven starters next year and seem well-positioned to make another strong run at the regional title.
Webb said, “Next year we’re going to be hungry for it.”