Baseball: Clutch pitching propels Settlers to opening day win


Noah Riddell, Travis Sepenoski and Alex Lopez are Southold High School players, although on Monday they performed more like escape artists.

They combined to hurl a two-hitter in the First Settlers’ season opener, a 2-1 home win over Southampton in a game that was called on account of darkness in the bottom of the sixth inning. By then, the three underclassmen managed to work out of jams five times.

“I just teach patience to the kids,” Southold coach Greg Tulley said. “You’ve just got to throw strikes. You can’t have walks. If a team beats us with the bat, they beat us with the bat. That’s a great job finding the strike zone.”

Certainly no mean feat for a young team that returned only two starters.

Seconds after the game was called, the Settlers were so elated that they celebrated as though they won a title.

“Today’s game was a big confidence booster for us,” said junior right-hander Alex Lopez, who hurled the final inning and recorded the win. “First game of the season with a W and going into Mattituck on Wednesday, our confidence is way higher.”

Sepenoski, a freshman and third baseman before his relief stint, agreed.

“We had good expectations,” he said. “We played better than anyone thought we were going to.”

Riddell, another freshman, started the game a bit wild, walking Riley Herrmann on four pitches. After Herrmann stole second base, the Riddell struck out the Mariners’ right-hander and induced Liam Blackmore to hit the ball back to him.

“I got a few more strikes at the start of the game,” Riddell said, adding that he found his “flow.”

“I cut down on the walks. You trust your fielders, throw strikes and just make sure you get through that inning.”

Southampton had runners at first and third with one out in the second inning, but Riddell struck out Declan Barbour looking, and Travis Kyromburg bounced out to third.

After a one-two-three third, Elijah Abella ripped a two-out double to right center in the fourth, the only hit allowed by Riddell, who struck out James Dudley. Riddell fanned four and walked three.

He gave way to Sepenoski in the fifth and the right-hander found himself in a pickle. Sepenoski walked Cameron Gratton, who stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He struck out Douglas Dunkirk, but hit Herrmann with a pitch. With a 3-0 count on McDonnell, Tulley decided to walk him intentionally to load the bases.

“I was in the dumps right there,” Sepenoski said. “Coach intentionally walks the guy, which is a really smart play. That put a force at any base.”

The strategy worked to perfection as Blackmore bounced to second baseman Antonio Piraino for the final out.

Lopez tried to hold a 1-0 lead in the sixth. With two outs, James Dudley singled to center and stole second. Piraino, however, couldn’t handle Gratton’s grounder, and Dudley came around for the tying run. With Gratton on second, Kyromburg grounded out to Piraino.

“When I got myself into the jam, I just kept seeing where the ball was going,” Lopez said. “I cleared my mind as much as I could, took a deep breath and tried to just focus and get that ball right to the catcher’s glove.”

That set up the winning run in the bottom of the inning. Abella, a left-handed reliever, walked four consecutive batters — Jay Tramontana (winning run), Lopez, Riddell and Steve Clements (the final base on balls) — to give Southold a one-run lead.

To give you an idea of how players’ fortunes can change, that quartet was 0-for-8 with three strikeouts prior to that.

“From the start, you could tell he threw hard, but he struggled a little to throw strikes,” Lopez said. “Once we saw that, we got more patient with every swing that we took. That led us to have three men on base.”

After Jimmy Treharne struck out, the umpires called the game. It was also drizzling lightly.

In 2022, the senior-laden Settlers squad went 15-4 and reached the Suffolk County Class C playoffs. It will be intriguing to see if Southold can come close with a younger team. Only two starters returned — catcher Danny Cartselos, whose fifth-inning single scored Piraino with the first run, and shortstop Luke Newman.

“On the optimistic side, we’re always looking for that playoff berth,” said Tulley, who added Southold needed to finish at least 10-9 in League VIII play to qualify. “We have a very inexperienced young team looking to grow as much as possible.”

On Monday, the Settlers took an encouraging first step.