Gliding on the air currents high above the Mattituck High School varsity baseball field, a turkey vulture was scanning the scene for an easy meal. Meanwhile, down below, Babylon found Mattituck to be surprisingly easy pickings.
Having completed a successful regular season in which their pitching and defense was virtually impeccable, the Tuckers, with an untimely dismal showing, suddenly find themselves one loss away from the end of their season.
Mattituck fell behind, 4-0, by the second inning and never got on track. The Tuckers uncharacteristically committed three errors that led to three unearned runs in a 6-1 loss to Babylon Tuesday in the opening game for both teams in the Suffolk County Class B double-elimination tournament.
Second-seeded Mattituck (14-6) went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and twice loaded the bases, coming away with only one run.
Nothing seemed to go Mattituck’s way.
“It’s been going our way the whole season, and it just didn’t today,” third baseman Tyler C. Olsen said. “We really suffered for it. We haven’t lost that big all season.”
Previously, Mattituck hadn’t lost a game by more than two runs this year.
“This was the first game, really, that we’ve been out of the whole year,” said Mattituck coach Gene Rochler.
First baseman Tyler F. Olsen, who isn’t related to the other Olsen on the team with the same first and last names, called it “just one of those days.”
Babylon coach Victor Manzella took the interesting approach of not using his No. 1 pitcher, Gino Vano, in the playoff opener. Instead, he went with his No. 3 arm, Jack Layton (3-2). The pitching-in-reverse strategy worked for No. 3 Babylon (12-8) last year and it has gotten off to a good start this time. Sometimes you have to think outside the box.
Manzella said: “It worked out for us last year so we said, ‘Why not? Let’s go back to it. We’ll pitch backwards.’ Now we still have our ace in the bag and we have a ‘W’.”
Meanwhile, Mattituck sent its ace to mound. Bryce Grathwohl (6-2) wasn’t at his best, but he also didn’t get as much defensive or offensive support as the Tuckers would have liked.
Babylon opened the game with an excellent plate appearance by leadoff hitter Bobby Molinaro, who fouled off four two-strike pitches before taking a full-count walk on the 10th pitch. Antonio Tufano then slapped a single. One out later, they were knocked home by Eric Trapani’s triple to the right-centerfield fence. Those were the first two of Trapani’s three RBIs.
Almost immediately, Mattituck was in catch-up mode.
The two runs Babylon scored in the second, though, must have really stuck in Mattituck’s craw. After Cristino Tufano reached base on a dropped fly ball, Justin Vega dropped a two-out RBI double into centerfield. A fielding error then allowed Vega to score.
Babylon made it 5-0 in the fourth. Cristino Tufano cracked a leadoff double. Two outs later, he came home on a fielding error.
“We never got going,” said Tyler F. Olsen. He added, “I felt like we were playing catch-up the entire time.”
A good example of how trying it was for Mattituck came in the third inning. Mattituck’s Connor Fox struck out, but reached base on a dropped third strike and errant throw. Rochler said the sign for a sacrifice bunt was on for the next batter, but he didn’t square up to bunt, exposing Fox, who was then caught in a rundown between first and second base.
“We had bad execution,” Rochler said. “That can’t happen with no outs.”
Later that inning, though, with two outs, Tyler F. Olsen swatted an opposite-field single, Johnny Lisowy walked and Grathwohl was hit by a pitch. But Layton got Ryan Mahon to hit a sky-high popup, leaving the bases loaded.
The chances were there. The timeliness wasn’t.
“It was just a bad day,” said Rochler.
Mattituck’s run came in the fourth. Emmet Ryan golfed a single, Tyler C. Olsen (2-for-3) lined a single and Nate Demchak was hit by a pitch before Tyler F. Olsen walked.
That brought the end of Layton’s pitching day. He allowed four hits, three walks, hit three batters and struck out three.
Babylon tacked on a run in the seventh, with Trapani shooting an RBI single to center. Vega pitched 3 1/2 shutout innings of relief, allowing one hit.
Grathwohl went the distance, giving up eight hits. He had five strikeouts and one walk.
Mattituck will play host to No. 4 Southampton Wednesday in an elimination game for both teams.
“It looked like they were ready, then when the game started, they didn’t really take charge,” Rochler said of his players. “Tomorrow they got to because we’re playing for our lives.”
Photo caption: Babylon’s Cristino Tufano slides safely into second base on a second-inning fielder’s choice while Mattituck shortstop Connor Fox tries to glove the ball. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)