The road to the Suffolk County Class B title has run squarely through two schools in recent years: Mattituck and Center Moriches.
Since 2014, the Tuckers have won three county titles; the Red Devils have won a pair. Now, the Red Devils are one win away from another crown.
In Game 1 of the county finals in Center Moriches Tuesday, the Red Devils used the long ball to power past the Tuckers, 11-3. The series shifts to Mattituck Wednesday afternoon as the Tuckers find their backs against the wall to keep their season alive. They’ll need to do it against an undefeated Center Moriches (20-0) team that is 4-0 this season against Mattituck.
“Like I said to the kids on the bus after the game, there’s nothing we did wrong,” said Mattituck coach Gene Rochler. “They’re a good team. Sometimes you got to tip your hat to the other team.”
The Red Devils were the top-ranked Class B team in the state in the most recent rankings by the New York State Sportswriters Association.
Center Moriches twice hit back-to-back home runs in Tuesday’s win. The 11 runs were the most for the Red Devils in a game since defeating Port Jefferson April 23, 14-2.
“They’ve got a lot of guys who hit the long ball,” Rochler said.
Senior Bryce Grathwohl took the loss for the Tuckers. Andy Auffant earned the win for Center Moriches.
Grathwohl has been the Tuckers’ No. 1 pitcher all season and Tuesday was a rare afternoon where a team strung together a bunch of runs off him. He retired the first six Center Moriches batters over the first two innings before a big third inning.
“Today wasn’t his day,” Rochler said. “They were hitting the ball hard off him, which usually doesn’t happen.”
Rochler said the Tuckers hit the ball pretty well against a tough pitcher in Auffant, but it wasn’t enough.
“It’s hard to score against him,” he said.
The No. 2 Tuckers dropped their playoff opener against Babylon last Tuesday and needed to win consecutive games in the loser’s bracket to reach the finals. They did just that by defeating Southampton Wednesday, 13-1, and Babylon in a rematch Thursday, 5-2.
The Tuckers have already felt the pressure of needing a win, which they hope will help them in Wednesday’s game.
“You go into the game knowing that there’s no tomorrow,” Rochler said. “Maybe that will work in our favor. Center Moriches is undefeated and the pressure is on them to maintain that undefeated season. If we can at least win a game, I think we’ll feel like we accomplished something.”
Tyler C. Olsen will start Wednesday for Mattituck.
The Tuckers are now 16-7. If the Tuckers can win Wednesday, the series will come down to a decisive third game back in Center Moriches Friday.
While the Red Devils swept the regular season series against Mattituck, every game was close. Center Moriches won the three games by a combined four runs. Mattituck allowed 10 runs over those three games.
The winner of the series plays June 6 against the Nassau County champion at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.
Photo caption: Bryce Grathwohl of Mattituck pictured in the team’s playoff opener last week against Babylon. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)