End the season with a win.
Only one high school baseball team that makes it into the New York State Class B playoffs will be able to do that: the state champion.
That is what Mattituck is shooting for. It’s an ambitious goal, but the Tuckers aren’t shying away from it. They’re aiming to finish on top.
“It’s never been a secret since the end of last year,” said coach Steve DeCaro.
Last year the Tuckers came pretty close. They advanced to within three wins of being state champions before losing to Rye Neck in a regional final. That left them with a 21-4 record, the most wins in a single season since DeCaro took over the team 13 years ago.
As strong as last year’s Mattituck team was, DeCaro believes this year’s squad may be better. That’s saying something for a team that won League VIII, Suffolk County and Long Island championships last year.
“At Mattituck, this is probably the best I’ve ever seen,” he said of the current collection of Tuckers. “We’re returning all-state players, and all these guys are baseball players.”
The Tuckers lost a tremendous pitcher with the graduation of Cameron Burt (Queens College), who had eight wins in 2014, and catcher Brian Pelan, but they have nine players back with experience as starters.
Heading the list is Marcos Perivolaris, a first team all-state selection and the League VIII most valuable player. Perivolaris, who is in his fifth year on the team, pitches and plays shortstop. Last year he had a .438 batting average and 24 runs batted in. He tied Joe Tardif for the most runs scored on the team with 28.
“He looks great, swinging the bat better than he ever has,” said DeCaro.
Perivolaris’ pitching numbers were impressive, too. He posted a 7-1 record with a 1.69 earned run average.
Another senior, second baseman/pitcher Chris Dwyer, made fourth team all-state and received League VIII’s Silver Slugger Award, which goes to the league’s best hitter. Dwyer carried a team-leading .465 batting average, homered twice and drove in 20 runs.
The twins Ian and James Nish, as well as Tardif, were all-league honorees. All three are seniors. Ian Nish, who plays first base, and James, who plays outfield and pitches, led the Tuckers with 26 RBI each. They both had pop in their bats to go with average. Ian batted .317 with two home runs, and James had a .431 average and three homers.
Tardif, a pitcher/center fielder, enjoyed a tremendous season defensively and offensively. He brought a .407 average to the plate, stole a team-high 34 bases and provided stellar play in the outfield. When it was his turn to pitch, he excelled in that area, too, producing a 4-0 record and a miniscule 0.43 ERA. He issued 12 walks against 42 strikeouts, and opponents could manage only a .133 batting average against him.
Will Gildersleeve, a senior third baseman, was the Section XI playoff MVP.
Tyler Webb, a senior right fielder, and two juniors, catcher Mike Onufrak and utility player Jon Dwyer, are valued assets, too.
Five juniors are new to the team: pitcher/first baseman Christian Figurniak, pitcher/third baseman Victor Proferes, outfielders Joey Graeb and Dan Fedun, and second baseman Joey Lisowy.
“We just picked up the first day of practice just like it was the last day of practice last year,” DeCaro said Friday. “We’re ready to play a game right now.”
The starting pitching staff remains to be ironed out, and that’s a strength, not a weakness. The Tuckers, with 10 pitchers, have more pitching depth than they did last year.
“We’ve got too many guys fighting for the job,” DeCaro said. “That’s a good problem to have.”
Perivolaris and Tardif were starting pitchers last year.
As for the proverbial target on the back, that’s just the way DeCaro wants it.
“We also know the other teams aren’t lying down and dying for us,” he said. “They’re not going to let us win. We’re hoping we have that target for a while.”
DeCaro’s career coaching record is remarkably similar to that of Mike Carver, who is in his 14th year coaching Southold. DeCaro (162-116) has the ninth-best winning percentage of active coaches in Suffolk at .583, and Carver (159-117) is 11th at .576, according to the Suffolk County Baseball Coaches Association.
Carver’s record wasn’t helped by last season when the First Settlers went 4-11.
Hitting has typically been a Southold strength. Last year it wasn’t. Carver figured the team’s batting average last season was .200, at best. He said he hasn’t had the desire to check the exact figure on his computer.
“I knew it was bad,” he said.
Looking for brighter days ahead, Carver said he should have a playoff team on his hands this year. He said the players are focused and ready. “Looking back at last year, they know what it’s like to underachieve, and they don’t want to again,” he said.
Southold has a pair of all-league players in senior pitcher/third baseman Alex Poliwoda and junior shortstop Noah Mina.
Poliwoda heads a starting pitching staff that includes sophomore Pat McFarland, sophomore Dylan Clausen and junior Greg Gehring, a transfer from Bishop McGann-Mercy. Clausen is the only left-hander among them.
“Every time Alex gets on the mound, it should be a win,” Carver said. “His velocity is up. He’s throwing, I would say, mid-80s, consistently. I think Alex will be hard to beat this year.”
Shayne Johnson, a speedy senior center fielder, will bat in the leadoff position.
“I got speed at the top of the lineup with Johnson,” Carver said. “If Johnson gets on base, it’s going to be a double or a triple. I got enough bats behind him, too.”
The projected top of the batting order has Johnson followed by McFarland, Gehring, Poliwoda and then Clausen or Sean Moran.
Others vying for starting positions are first baseman Bryan Patchell, outfielder/first baseman Anthony Siracusano, outfielder Liam Walker and outfielder/second baseman Matt Cardi.
Carver said, “I think we have a lot of weapons, I really do.”
Southold will play 20 games in League IX, which has been joined by Port Jefferson. Like other baseball people, Carver is itching to get started, so he wasn’t happy to see snow fall on Friday and Saturday.
“This little batch of snow is salt in the wounds,” he said during Saturday morning’s practice while snow fell outside and it looked like a winter wonderland. “What are you going to do? It’s high school baseball on the northeast.”
The issue of numbers has been addressed at Greenport (4-10). Last season the Porters called themselves the Notorious Nine because they often played with only nine or 10 players. On top of that, about two-thirds of the way through the season, the junior varsity team was disbanded because it didn’t have enough players. This year the Porters are carrying a 22-player roster, although they do not have a junior varsity team.
They do, however, have a new head coach in Mike Sage. Sage, 39, coached the junior varsity team the last three years. Now he takes over his first varsity job, succeeding Chris Golden, who stepped down to spend more time with his family and coaching soccer. Golden went 16-38 in his three years coaching the Porters. He had coached Southold/Greenport for 10 years and has a career mark of 113-130 (.465), according to the Suffolk County Baseball Coaches Association.
Sage is counting on the leadership of three returning starting seniors — the twins Matt and John Drinkwater as well as Timmy Stevens. All three pitch. In addition, Matt Drinkwater plays third base, John Drinkwater can play first base or the outfield, and Stevens is being moved from shortstop to catcher.
“It’s a position that I wanted to anchor back there, someone who knows the ins and outs of the game,” Sage said of the catcher. “I think having him back there as the general is really important.”
Sage said two other seniors who will start are outfielder Neville Reece and infielder David Krumenacker. Jacob Skrezec, who can play first base and the outfield, and infielder/outfielder Tyler Kruszeski also return.
New players like outfielder Bayron Rivas, catcher/first baseman Keegan Syron, shortstop/pitcher Jordan Fonseca, second baseman/pitcher Matt Tuthill, pitcher Ryan Costello and infielder Jason Van Brunt may make an impact, too.
“We do have some arms, which is the important thing,” Sage said. “I have some good, experienced arms, and I do have kids who have played plenty of baseball, so I’m leaning on them a lot.”
Sage believes the Porters can compete for a playoff spot. “I just want them to go out there and play the game the best they can every day,” he said. “I think we can turn a lot of heads this year.”