When the opposing starting pitcher is the son of a former Major League Baseball player, there’s a good chance it could be a long afternoon for the batters. Or quick, that is.
The Mattituck Tuckers, with a chance to clinch its third county championship in four seasons, faced a formidable challenge Tuesday against Center Moriches ace Liam Pulsipher. His father, Bill, was part of the famed Generation K trio of the New York Mets in the mid-’90s. He pitched in 106 games during his career with five different teams.
The younger Pulsipher, now a junior, helped lead the Red Devils to the county championship last year, a title that had belonged to Mattituck for two seasons.
For as tough as Pulsipher can be on the mound, the Tuckers had the comfort of knowing they could live to see another day even in defeat. Thanks to their No. 1 seed in the bracket and victory last Tuesday over Babylon, the Tuckers emerged from the winner’s bracket of the Class B tournament, meaning Center Moriches, which lost its playoff opener to Babylon, would need two wins against Mattituck to clinch another championship.
So even after Pulsipher fired a two-hit shutout at Mattituck High School to lead Center Moriches to a 3-0 victory, the Tuckers quickly brushed off the defeat and prepared for a win-or-go home game on Wednesday back in Mattituck.
“We’re going to be fine,” said Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro. “Our guys have played in bigger games than this. We still have guys from our state championship team [in 2015] graduating this year. They know what’s up.”
With their one loss now behind them, the room for error is gone for the Tuckers, who need five more victories to win another state title.
They hoped to take that first step Tuesday, but Pulsipher and the Red Devils had other ideas. Pitching for the third time this season against Mattituck, the left-hander dominated throughout, escaping trouble in the third inning to thwart the only serious rally from the Tuckers.
“I was kind of lonely at third base today,” said DeCaro, who coaches third base when the team bats.
Pulsipher said his four-seam fastball and cutter were both particularly effective for him Tuesday.
“The [cutter] was just sinking under the bats on the swing,” he said. “I felt like those helped me out a lot.”
He struck out 10 and walked two. The Tuckers had one extra base hit: a double by designated hitter James McDonald in the seventh inning.
“He did such a good job of spotting the ball and moving it around,” DeCaro said. “He kept us off balance with his off-speed pitches.”
The Tuckers got a strong outing from on the mound from Brendan Kent, who pitched all seven innings. But the Red Devils pushed across two runs in the third and another in the fourth. That was all they needed.
Brad Sakellarides doubled home the first run with a hit to right field and Alec Maag got an RBI for a groundout to shortstop, an unearned run.
Kent (5-3) worked out of trouble throughout the game and the Red Devils stranded seven runners.
“He showed a lot of guts in tough situations,” DeCaro said. “He held a good team to three runs.”
DeCaro wasn’t ready to commit immediately after the game as to who would pitch Wednesday. But every pitcher would be available if needed in the elimination game, minus Kent.
The Tuckers’ best chance to break through on Pulsipher came in the third. After striking out the first two batters of the inning, Pulsipher allowed Chris Nicholson to reach on a soft ground ball to short. The next batter reached on a walk, brining up Ryan McCaffrey. On a 3-1 pitch, he pulled the ball deep down the left field line. For a moment, it appeared the Tuckers had scored their first run and possibly could have tied it. But the ball had been ruled to land foul. De Caro said he had a good view of the play from and confirmed the ball had landed foul by maybe a foot or less in left field.
“Once it got past third base, I was like, OK, this is going to curve foul,” Pulsipher said. “Thankfully by an inch or two, it just curved foul.”
McCaffrey walked to load the bases, but Pulsipher got the next batter, Matt Heffernan, to ground out to first to end the inning.
Before the game, Pulsipher said his dad gave him some simple advice: “Just relax and have fun.”
Top photo caption: Mattituck shortstop Matt Heffernan tags out David Franchi in the third inning on a caught stealing. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)