To be continued.
That’s the way things stand now in the finale of a three-game Suffolk County League VIII baseball series between Babylon and Mattituck. The two teams are so evenly matched it’s hard to find separation between them. Certainly, that was the case Thursday when they played 10 innings, covering 2 hours, 45 minutes, and a winner still couldn’t be decided.
The game at Mattituck High School was suspended because of fading light with the score knotted, 4-4. With rain in the forecast for Friday, it was not immediately known when the game will be resumed.
“I guess it could have gone forever, the way it seemed,” said Mattituck coach Gene Rochler.
Not only is it a long game, but it’s an important game, with playoff implications. To the winner will go the No. 2 seed in the Suffolk Class B Tournament and a home-field advantage as well as other considerations over the No. 3 seed.
The teams split the first two games of the series, with Mattituck winning at home, 4-1, on Monday and Babylon a 4-3 winner on its field Tuesday.
Looking at the possibility of a return 75-minute bus trip to Mattituck to finish the rubber game, Babylon coach Victor Manzella said, “I’d rather take that than take the ‘L’.”
Mattituck (11-5, 10-4) built a 4-0 lead by the fourth inning on a cold, overcast day with temperatures in the low-50s. But Babylon (9-7, 9-5) charged back and tied the score with a three-run sixth. Two hits opened the inning — a ground-ball single by Aidan Brown (3-for-4, walk) and looped single by Gavin Conboy. That’s when Rochler took the ball from his starting pitcher, Connor Fox, and handed it over to his little-used bullpen.
Before the inning ended, though, Antonio Tufano (4-for-5) worked a bases-loaded walk and designated hitter Bobby Molinaro smacked a two-run single, making it 4-4.
One inning earlier, Babylon loaded the bases with no outs, but came away with only one run, from Eric Trapani’s bases-loaded walk. Fox struck out two batters that inning and third baseman Tyler C. Olsen caught a tricky foul ball, falling to the grass with the ball in his grasp.
An indication of how important this game is to both sides was evident by the fact that they both used starting pitchers in relief. Babylon’s No. 1 pitcher, Gino Vano, and Mattituck’s No. 2 hurler, Olsen, both made abbreviated starts earlier in the series and were thus available.
“It’s like both of them got a little redemption, both of those guys, because they both pitched very well,” said Rochler, who hadn’t planned on pitching Olsen Thursday.
Vano handled five scoreless innings, allowing two hits. The tough lefthander looked sharp, walking three and fanning four.
Olsen threw only about 25 pitches Tuesday before he withdrew because he was feeling ill. That was a blessing in disguise for Mattituck, as it turned out, making him available Thursday. Olsen, in his first relief appearance of the season, turned in four scoreless innings in which he gave up five hits and one walk against seven strikeouts.
“For a guy who was so sick on Tuesday, he came back today and he looked great and he was throwing strikes,” said Rochler.
Three of those Ks came in the ninth, including the biggest strikeout of the game, when he benefitted from a called third strike for the third out with two runners on.
“Every second of me pitching was intense because I knew I had to go out there in a tie game and I had to be perfect, and I could not let up a run,” said Olsen.
Mattituck’s Chris Nicholson, who played centerfield and pitched an inning of relief, said: “Some guys would get on base and he would battle back. He just kept doing what he had to do to get those outs.”
Mattituck got its runs earlier.
Johnny Lisowy smashed a hit off diving shortstop Antonio Tufano’s glove and Fox bounced a double down the leftfield line. Both scored on Brady Mahon’s two-out single in the second.
Nicholson led off the third by belting a single up the middle before stealing second base. He was brought home by Emmet Ryan’s soft liner beyond second baseman Christino Tufano’s reach.
Nicholson made it 4-0 in the fourth by drilling an RBI double to centerfield.
“It was an insane game,” Olsen said, using the past tense. “After Tuesday we knew that it was going to be a battle for this game, such an important game for the playoffs.”
Nicholson said: “We’re still battling. The game’s not over yet.”
Photo caption: Tyler C. Olsen fired seven strikeouts in four scoreless innings in his first relief appearance of the season for Mattituck. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)