The welcomed sounds of the crack of a bat and pitched baseballs popping into catchers’ mitts were back.
Although it doesn’t come close to making up for a lost high school baseball season, the Town of Brookhaven Wood Bat Tournament offered recently graduated seniors one last chance to play for their schools. One last chance to play alongside their teammates. One last chance to create some lasting memories.
And the Mattituck Tuckers can take away good memories from their participation in the event. Mattituck didn’t qualify for the playoffs, but won its final two games, including a 7-0 stomping of rival Center Moriches, the reigning two-time state Class B champion, Sunday at Moriches Athletic Complex. Chris Nicholson hurled a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts in the six-inning game (time limit) as Mattituck split its four games in the tournament.
“It was awesome,” Nicholson said of the tournament. “It meant so much to get back on the field again with all of these guys we’ve been playing with since forever.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the boys of summer became the boys of July 8-13, 2020. In this oddest of years, this baseball had a little different look, concessions to social distancing. The home-plate umpire could have been called the pitcher’s mound umpire because instead of crouching behind the catcher at home plate, he was positioned about 10 feet behind the pitcher and wearing a facemask. No more than three people were allowed in the dugout at a time, sending most players to sit in the bleachers. Tips of the cap replaced postgame handshakes.
Sure, it was a little strange, but it was still baseball, and that was perhaps appreciated most by the seniors playing for the last time. It was, in a sense, an unofficial senior day.
Asked how much it meant for him to be able to play in the tournament, Mattituck senior centerfielder Emmet Ryan said: “So much, oh so much. Every time I saw one of the umpires, one of the other coaches, I said, ‘Thank you so much.’ It was amazing just to have this.”
After watching the school season do a going, going, gone, a victim of the pandemic, the Town of Brookhaven director of baseball, Sal Mignano, thought of a way to give high school players a chance to play this summer. The main impetus, he said, was to do something for the seniors.
A survey was put out to gauge interest and 45 teams said they were interested, Mignano said. Thirty-five teams eventually competed, playing games on four fields in Moriches, two in Medford, one in Eastport and one in Yaphank.
How has the tournament fared?
“Beyond what I thought it could be,” Mignano said. “The feedback from the coaches has been phenomenal, from the parents it’s been phenomenal.”
Nicholson, a senior righthander, said what he wanted to get out of his final game was simple: “Honestly, have fun. This is a win no matter what, just to be out here. We didn’t expect to be out here at all this season, so being out here with these great guys and having fun is awesome.”
It could be said Nicholson was pretty awesome himself. After accounting for all three outs in the first inning on strikeouts, Nicholson fanned two batters in each of the next three innings. Six of his Ks came on called third strikes.
The only Center Moriches (1-3) hit came two outs into the third inning when Jordan Falco bounced an infield single past Nicholson. Nicholson, who walked five and hit a batter, threw 107 pitches.
“He’s such a student-athlete of the game,” Mattituck coach Dan O’Sullivan said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Earlier in the tournament, Mattituck dropped losses to Babylon, 8-0, and Pierson, 4-3, before beating Hampton Bays, 10-5, on Saturday. The team’s hitting picked up.
Brady Mahon (3-for-4, three runs batted in) and Ryan both connected for booming two-run doubles that left Mattituck with a 4-0 lead by the fourth. Three more runs followed in the fifth. Mahon singled in the first of those runs and the other two scored on a throwing error.
“A big ‘W’ against Center Moriches is good every day,” said Nicholson.
Also among the seniors playing for Mattituck Sunday were Josh Starzee, Sean Jester, Joe Corso and Bill Hickox. They put a closing chapter to a crazy senior year they won’t soon forget. The Tuckers were missing players, including seniors Chris Talbot, Matt Czujko and junior Connor Fox.
“I was getting a little choked up my last at-bat,” Nicholson said. “I looked over to Coach and he said, ‘This might be it,’ and it really hit me.”
The end had finally arrived.