Baseball superstition demands that no player speak of a no-hitter as it’s in progress, specifically to the pitcher hurling the spotless performance.
Mattituck senior Brendan Kent had been through the routine before. He tossed a no-hitter to open the playoffs when the Tuckers defeated Babylon May 16. And as the late innings approached on a warm night in Patchogue Thursday, Kent couldn’t help but feel the weight of the moment. As he jogged from the third base dugout to the mound to start each inning, the big scoreboard in right field at St. Joseph’s College’s Gregg Alfano Field glowed with a line of unmistakable zeroes.
Kent stepped on the mound to start the seventh inning against Wheatley in the Southeast Regional semifinals having not surrendered a hit, but more importantly, his team was clinging to just a one run lead.
“I just kept taking deep breaths and telling myself, stay calm,” Kent said.
After the first two batters of the inning grounded out, Kent faced Wheatley cleanup hitter Mike Cunney. On a full count, Cunney grounded to third baseman Bryce Grathwohl, who fired a strike to first to seal the victory, igniting a dogpile of Mattituck players between the mound and home plate.
For the second time in three games, Kent threw a no-hitter, this time lifting the Tuckers to a 1-0 victory and Class B Long Island Championship that leaves Mattituck one win away from a return to the state final four in Binghamton.
“This one feels amazing,” Kent said. “This is just a rush of emotions going up there and I’m so happy our team came together and we did it.”
Kent walked a pair to account for the only Wheatley baserunners. And one was thrown out on a caught stealing by catcher Ryan Mahon at a pivotal moment in the sixth inning.
The Tuckers, who have now won three Long Island titles in the past four years, advance to play Section 9 winner Rondout Valley at 6 p.m. Saturday at Cantine Field in Saugerties, N.Y. Rondout Valley defeated Albertus Magnus of Section I on Thursday, 3-2.
Kent threw 102 pitches in his no-hitter, striking out nine. His teammates knew he was on from the opening inning when he retired the side in order, striking out a pair.
“It all started in warmups, really,” said Mahon, the catcher. “He looked perfect. And first inning he had a great inning, I knew it was going to be a great day.”
First baseman James McDonald, who drove in the only run with a triple in the second, said if Kent struggles at all, it’s typically at the beginning of a game.
“This game he started off hot so we knew it was going to be a good game,” he said.
The Tuckers (18-6) needed every bit of Kent’s dominant performance to advance. The Tuckers managed just three hits against Wheatley starter Stephen McCleary, who had won his previous two starts in the playoffs.
“There’s been times where it’s been rough for [Kent] and we help him out and today he helped us out,” said Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro. “We weren’t hitting real well today and we had to rely on him.”
Kent ran into some trouble in the third after walking the leadoff hitter. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner into scoring position with one out. Kent bounced back to get the next two hitters on a groundout and strikeout to end the inning, leaving a runner stranded on third after he had advanced on a passed ball.
The leadoff batter reached on a walk again in the sixth. But on a 2-2 count to the next batter, Will Farrar, who had pinch hit, attempted to steal second and was gunned down by a wide margin. Kent then struck out the batter, Joe Vella, one pitch later to quickly get the second out.
“That was huge,” Kent said. “Ryan has been practicing throwing guys out all year. And he’s looked so good. He was waiting for the moment to finally do it and he got it. He canned that guy by 10 feet. That was incredible.”
“Brendan gave me the perfect pitch to throw down on,” Mahon added.
The only offense for Mattituck started when Bryce Grathwohl reached on an error to start the second. He advanced to third on a single to center by Sam Dickerson, who was thrown out trying to advance to second on the hit, and then scored on the triple.
McDonald said he saw the first pitch, a curveball, go by him and he waited for the fastball right in his wheelhouse.
“I just drove it,” he said.
It was the second time the Tuckers defeated Wheatley to win the L.I. title. The teams also met in 2014 when Mattituck won 9-2.
Top photo caption: Mattituck pitcher Brendan Kent, center, celebrates with his teammates after pitching a no-hitter against Wheatley Thursday. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)