No relief was needed, and that was more than a relief. It was more like a blessing.
Mattituck starting pitchers turned in complete-game performances in the high school baseball team’s first three-game Suffolk County League VIII series against Port Jefferson. Bryce Grathwohl and Tyler C. Olsen both allowed one run each in their outings, but it was the showing by Mattituck’s new No. 3 pitcher on Friday that really turned heads.
Not even the coach was sure of what to expect in that one. Then, after seeing what sophomore Connor Fox could do, Mattituck coach Gene Rochler had to admit, “I didn’t see that coming.”
Rochler was hoping for three or four innings from Fox, and keeping Nate Demchak ready to come on in relief.
He never needed him.
Fox, in his first varsity game, looked like a virtuoso, turning in a two-hit shutout. Appearing calm and composed, the righthander took deep breaths here and then, stared into catcher Ryan Mahon’s glove and fired pitches in a 9-0 win over visiting Port Jefferson.
“It’s everything I thought it was,” Fox said of his varsity debut in which he issued no walks and struck out four. “I can’t ask for anything more. It’s just great.”
Rochler learned he has a more than capable third pitcher in his starting rotation. “It was an eye-opening start,” the coach said. “Let’s hope it’s the beginning of something good.”
Fox, who throws a two-seam fastball, a knuckle-drop and a changeup, retired the first eight batters he faced, and looked good doing so. He was economical, too, turning in five 1-2-3 innings and facing only one batter over the minimum through the first 6 1/3 innings. In one inning he required only six pitches. For the game he threw 80 pitches.
That additional batter was thanks to Port Jefferson’s ninth man in its order, designated hitter Phoenix Jampol, who took an inside 3-and-2 pitch down the leftfield line for a double in the third inning. The only other Port Jefferson baserunner was Peyton Ginas, who dropped a well-placed, one-out single between second baseman Brady Mahon and rightfielder Matt Czujko in the seventh.
“Honestly, I think he shocked the whole team, really,” Mattituck catcher Ryan Mahon said. “First start as a varsity pitcher and he just blew everyone away. It was great to see that we have a pitcher who can do that for us. Everything was great today. He was hitting spots. His stuff was good. I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better start than that.”
Fox credited the errorless defense behind him. “I knew that I had a good infield behind me and my coaches taught me good so I just trusted them,” he said. “You just got to bear down and start throwing strikes. That’s what it comes down to.”
Mattituck bats gave Fox a 5-0 cushion to work with after the first inning. The Tuckers (4-1, 3-0) batted through their order and capitalized on three Port Jefferson errors in the first. Three of those runs scored directly on errors. In addition, Demchak drew a bases-loaded walk and Brady Mahon plopped an RBI single into shallow leftfield.
A three-run charge in the third allowed for even more breathing room. A fine lunging catch by Port Jefferson centerfielder Gabe Zoda robbed Fox of what would have been his first varsity hit, but Mattituck still came away with runs from a Johnny Lisowy sacrifice fly, a Grathwohl RBI single and Tyler C. Olsen’s RBI ground-rule double.
Lisowy, the designated hitter, drove in his second run in the fourth, an inside-out, two-out single to rightfield. Lisowy, Tyler C. Olsen and Ryan Mahon had two hits each.
“I don’t know that we have a lineup that’s going to crush the ball, but we’re going to get hits, we’re going to score runs,” Rochler said. “We just got to play good defense and get good pitching. That’s the main thing.”
Fox, the workhorse for the junior varsity team last year, said the hardest part of the game for him was sitting in the dugout for extended periods when Mattituck had long innings at the plate. “That’s definitely the hardest part because your arm just gets colder,” he said. “You have to keep it warm.”
Nonetheless, he turned in a performance that has to warm the Tuckers’ hearts.
“No problems,” Fox said. “Everything felt great.”
Photo caption: Mattituck sophomore Connor Fox, left, high-fives teammate Sean MacDonald after pitching a two-hit shutout in his varsity debut. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)