SOUTHEAST REGION CLASS B SEMIFINAL | TUCKERS 9, WHEATLEY 2
Because of inconvenient scheduling, the Mattituck Tuckers had a long bus ride home from Farmingdale State College on Friday evening. After a night’s rest, they will be back on the road the following morning for an even longer bus ride back west to Mamaroneck High School.
Judging by the roar of cheers heard emanating from the baseball team’s bus before it headed out for the ride home, the Tuckers didn’t mind. After all, they had a lot to cheer about. They are Long Island champions again.
“For two hours on the way back to Mattituck, our kids get to eat and celebrate,” said coach Steve DeCaro.
The Tuckers have known for a while that they have the stuff of champions. Now they can add a Long Island championship, their second in four years, to the League VIII and Suffolk County titles they picked up earlier this season.
This latest notch on their belt was the result of a 9-2 thrashing of Nassau County champion Wheatley on Friday in a Southeast Region Class B semifinal in Farmingdale.
Tuckers pitcher Cameron Burt remembers being a freshman on the 2011 team and watching as Steve Ascher hurled a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts in an 8-0 win over Oyster Bay for the Long Island title on this same field. Burt said he dreamed of one day pitching on the same mound Ascher did.
That time came on Friday, and the right-handed Burt was up to the task, throwing strikes and giving right-handed batters fits with his slider. After pitching the biggest game of his career, Burt essentially told reporters that he felt as if he was on top of the world.
“The best feeling I ever had in my whole life,” he said. “Oh yeah, it’s up there.” He added, “If you could feel the way I feel right now you would know.”
The victory earned the Tuckers a place in a regional final Saturday against Rye Neck in Mamaroneck. Rye Neck was a 2-0 winner over Spackenkill in their regional semifinal on Friday.
The Tuckers (21-3) were ready to play Friday and brought more than Wheatley (17-6) could handle. Mattituck’s leadoff batter and speedy center fielder, Joe Tardif, went 4 for 5, scored three runs, drove in another two runs and stole two bases, one of them being third base. Chris Dwyer wasn’t too shabby, either, producing three hits, including a pair of doubles. And then, of course, there was Burt (8-1), who tossed a five-hitter with six strikeouts and one walk.
“If he throws strikes, we’re going to win the game,” said Dwyer.
It was a complete, all-around performance.
“We know that we’re a very good team and we have to play like one, and we did today,” said shortstop Marcos Perivolaris.
Despite playing their first game in exactly two weeks, the Tuckers looked confident, sharp and focused against Wheatley, which reached the state semifinals last year, the furthest it has ever advanced in the playoffs. The Wildcats returned seven starters from that team, but even that experience wasn’t enough to hold down the Tuckers, who outhit them, 15-5. Seven Tuckers had at least one hit, and five had at least two.
“We definitely hit,” said Tardif, who is hitting .500 (8 for 16) with six stolen bases in the postseason. “It was our best hitting performance all year.”
A pair of errors helped spot Mattituck a 2-0 lead. Dwyer doubled in a run in the first inning and Tardif knocked in the second run in the second.
Run-scoring singles by Tardif and Perivolaris doubled that lead in the fourth.
It was in the bottom half of the inning when Wheatley put up its two runs. Billy McLean doubled and Andrew Hastings singled him home before Tommy Gillette later supplied a sacrifice fly.
If there were any doubts that this was Mattituck’s day, they were all but erased in the sixth when the Tuckers came through with one of the big rallies they have become known for. This one was for four runs and featured five hits in six plate appearances. Among them were a two-run triple that James Nish belted over right fielder Ryan Levy’s head and a run-scoring single that Burt pounded high off the pitcher’s mound.
Then, just for good measure, Dwyer drove in another run the following inning with his second double of the game.
“This was a Mattituck game,” DeCaro said. “We hit the ball all over the place.”
Not to be overlooked amid all the offense and Burt’s effective pitching was some sparkling defense turned in by the Tuckers. In the fifth, catcher Brian Pelan picked Andrew Feimer off first base, with the second baseman, Dwyer, covering the bag while the first baseman, Ian Nish, charged in with the threat of a bunt. Burt picked off another runner at first, Mike Carney, in the seventh. That came after Perivolaris, the shortstop, robbed Gillette of a hit by making a fine leaping grab of a humpbacked liner in shallow left field.
After Burt struck out the final batter of the game, it was a familiar sight for the Tuckers: caps and gloves thrown high in the air and a dogpile in front of the pitcher’s mound.
After a reporter mentioned Burt’s excitement over what had happened, DeCaro said, “He’s got more good feelings coming when he pitches next week in the state championship, hopefully.”