The Mattituck High School baseball team’s new head coach is not new.
Gene Rochler isn’t new to the Tuckers (he had been an assistant coach in the program for 13 years) or coaching (this marks his 40th year in coaching), for that matter. But Rochler takes over the team as the successor to Steve DeCaro, who was placed on administrative leave in October for unspecified reasons.
“I think that’s why it was a logical choice for me to end up being the coach here because I know all the players,” Rochler, 65, of Wading River said. “I coached a lot of them on JV. I’ve coached them on varsity, and I’m not coming into this brand new. I also know the assistants. I know what was established here for years. I was part of it.”
Now, after 16 years during which DeCaro went 238-139-1 (with a state championship in 2015) as Mattituck’s coach, Rochler is in charge of things as the Tuckers began preseason practice this week. As DeCaro’s right-hand man for over a decade, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that similarities are seen between the two in their approaches to baseball.
“I do really see a lot of similarities,” said senior catcher Ryan Mahon.
Rochler said: “I would say we do a lot of things the same. Him and I always kid about this, but he bunts a lot more than I do. I like to let kids hit. In looking back at it, I think I’m somewhat more aggressive on the bases than him. That’s why I always felt comfortable here as his assistant coach because we just approach the game and we teach the game the same way.”
Rochler played for Hewlett High School before becoming a third baseman and pitcher for St. John’s University. He has coached Garden City and Harborfields. In 2004 he joined Mattituck’s coaching staff, leaving in 2006 to coach Harborfields and returning to Mattituck in 2009.
About 38 players came out for both teams this week as Rochler opened spring training with the aid of assistant coaches Tom Ascher and Rich Pisacano and junior varsity coach Dan O’Sullivan.
“I came in with a bunch of guys who are familiar with the program and that’s why it’s been like a seamless transition,” Rochler said. “It’s worked out well.”
Mattituck is coming off a playoff year in which it went 12-11 and was knocked out of the double-elimination Suffolk County Class B Tournament with losses to Center Moriches and Babylon.
“Compared to other seasons, it didn’t end the way we all wanted it to, but I think we really did have a strong team,” said Mahon.
This year’s team is looking good, said Rochler. With about a dozen returning players, Mattituck has two returning starting pitchers back in seniors Bryce Grathwohl and Tyler C. Olsen.
“We have some good arms,” Rochler said. “The pitchers have been throwing and, incrementally, their pitch counts have gone up, so a lot of them are throwing between 40 and 50 pitches.”
Also back are veterans like senior outfielder Jon Lisowy, junior centerfielder Chris Nicholson and Mahon.
“We’re going to be a good, competitive team,” Rochler said. “I don’t know that we’re going to be state champions, but I do think we’re going to win a lot more than we lose, and I think that we can sneak up on some people and maybe do a little bit better than a lot of people expected us to. We have good pitching, good defense and we have a lot of seniors that are good leaders on this team, and I think that translates into success — or at least I’m hoping it does anyway.”
So, what have the early practices been like under Mattituck’s new head coach?
“It’s a little different not having Coach DeCaro, but it’s the same mentality,” Grathwohl said. “We’re coming out here to compete, to win, to make playoffs and go as far as we can. Coach Roch, he’s a great coach. He knows a lot about baseball.”
And Rochler knows a lot about the reality of spring training on Long Island.
He said, “This time of the year I’m prepared to freeze my butt off in March.”
Photo caption: Mattituck’s new head coach, Gene Rochler, second from left, addresses his players during Tuesday’s practice. Standing alongside him, from left, are junior varsity coach Dan O’Sullivan and varsity assistants Rich Pisacano and Tom Ascher. (Credit: Bob Liepa)