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Baseball: Tuckers headed to state semifinals

Faced with the prospect of being victimized by a no-no, Mattituck turned the tables rather suddenly, first saying no no-hitter for Rondout Valley, and then no state semifinals for the Ganders.

Instead, it will be Mattituck heading to the state Class B semifinals for the second time in three years. Just how the Tuckers managed to do it is a testament to how crazy baseball can be sometimes.

Rondout Valley pitcher Branch Cranfield had a no-hitter going through five innings before Mattituck’s fortunes changed dramatically over the course of four at-bats in the sixth inning of the Southeast Region final on Saturday night. It led to a three-run burst that sent the Tuckers on the way to a 5-2 triumph at Cantine Memorial Field in Saugerties.

Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro said the Tuckers will play Livonia, the same team the Tuckers defeated in the 2015 state final, in Friday’s semifinal in Binghamton.

One by one, the Tuckers kissed the regional championship plaque as it was handed to them. They might have been grateful that they got their bats going in time.

For five innings, Mattituck (19-6) couldn’t solve Cranfield (4-2), a lanky righthander. Then the Tuckers had a breakthrough in the sixth. After Jon Lisowy’s leadoff walk, Ryan McCaffrey knocked a clean single past shortstop Ben Hikade for Mattituck’s first hit. A misplayed fly ball then allowed the Tuckers to load the bases for Bryce Grathwohl.

When a team is struggling to score, sometimes its own pitcher has to take matters into his hands, and that’s just what Grathwohl did. He delivered with a single to left that brought in two runs. A third run scored on the play when a throw to third base skipped into the outfield, allowing Matt Heffernan to come home.

That ended Cranfield’s day. The senior had allowed only one earned run, walking two with one strikeout before being relieved by Dallas Romaguera.

Mattituck had only three hits for the game to Rondout Valley’s nine, but timing is everything in baseball.

In the seventh, Mattituck’s Jason Scalia and Chris Nicholson were both hit on their left legs by pitches. They advanced on a balk and scored when Lisowy sliced a single that landed on the rightfield line, making it 5-1.

Andrew Huffman, who hammered a double that led to Rondout Valley’s first run in the sixth, factored in the Ganders’ second run in the seventh when an infield single by Austin Wells and a hard-struck single by A.J. Parete put two runners on base with one out. Kevin Mahon was brought in to relieve Grathwohl. A fielding error loaded the bases before Huffman’s sacrifice fly. The game ended on a fielder’s choice, and the Tuckers celebrated, hugging and piling on top of each other.

Grathwohl (7-1) had two walks and four strikeouts. The sophomore righty came up huge in the fifth when Rondout Valley (15-8) loaded the bases on back-to-back hits by Sam Culwell and Jeremy Pugliese and a two-out walk by Parete. Following a visit to the mound by DeCaro, Grathwohl fielded a bouncer back to him for the third out.

The victory makes the four-hour bus ride home the Tuckers have ahead of them so much more palatable. And why not? They got the result they were looking for, playing on a field of dreams on an absolutely beautiful evening.

Most importantly, they are headed to the state semifinals. That is something they can say yes-yes to.

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Photo caption: Mattituck players celebrate their second regional championship in three years. (Credit: Lucas Kosmynka)