Matchups are critical in high school baseball, and the Suffolk County League VIII series between the Southold First Settlers and the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs featured some interesting ones, to be sure. But none were more intriguing than Stepnoski vs. Stepnoski.
It was one Stepnoski pitted against another Stepnoski as starting pitchers on Wednesday. On Thursday they both started in center field for their respective teams — freshman Matt Stepnoski for Southold and junior Pat Stepnoski for McGann-Mercy.
Brother against brother, wearing different uniforms. If nothing else, it had to make for some interesting talk around the Stepnoski dinner table.
The younger Stepnoski and his teammates had the bragging rights on Thursday after visiting Southold survived a scare and secured a 15-13 victory, its first win in four games this season and its first in two league games.
It was just the day before when McGann-Mercy, behind Pat Stepnoski’s two-hit pitching in his team’s season opener, laid down a 12-1 thumping in Southold. Pat Stepnoski, who stuck primarily with fastballs, with a couple of sliders and hardly any changeups, had 12 strikeouts and two walks. One of the two hits he allowed was to his brother. They both struck each other out once.
“That was kind of interesting,” Pat Stepnoski said. “It was weird because it was hard rooting against him. I wanted to beat him, but not too bad.”
In Thursday’s game, Matt Stepnoski went 2 for 4, one of those hits being a two-run double he ripped into center field. He also walked and stole a base. Meanwhile, Pat Stepnoski went 1 for 3 with two runs batted in, a sacrifice fly and a stolen base.
“We fool around with each other, but it’s all fun and games,” said Matt Stepnoski, who is in his first varsity season. “We have a good competition with each other.”
It’s not the first time that Stepnoskis have been on opposing teams. Connor Stepnoski, the oldest of three brothers, was on the Southold team one year before joining his brother Pat at McGann-Mercy. Connor graduated last year.
But this time it was different because Matt and Pat have been on the field at the same time.
Pat Stepnoski, who is already in his fourth season as a starter for the Monarchs, was an all-county player last year. He is regarded as an exceptional talent.
“He’s my role model,” Matt Stepnoski said. “I’m not going to lie.”
When asked what makes Pat Stepnoski such a valuable player, McGann-Mercy Coach Ed Meier replied: “Five tools. His arm, he’s got speed, he can hit for power, he can hit for average, he can field. He’s got it all. I mean, he’s a legitimate ballplayer.”
Meanwhile, Matt Stepnoski has already shown that he can play.
“He’s got talent,” Southold Coach Mike Carver said. “He does a great job in center field. He makes nice catches. He covers a lot of territory.”
All one has to do is talk to both of them to hear the obvious difference in their personalities. Unlike the more reserved, soft-spoken Pat Stepnoski, Matt Stepnoski is outgoing and brash.
“He’s a little crazy,” Pat Stepnoski said. “He runs his mouth a lot.”
Southold’s bats did a lot of talking on Thursday when the team cranked out 15 hits. Rob Mahoney drove in three runs, Andrew Conway went 3 for 3 with two RBI and Luke Hokanson added three hits.
Rocco Pascale and Tom Kretz both homered for McGann-Mercy, with Pascale’s shot being a three-run blast that flew well over right field and broke a car windshield. They were the first homers of the season for both players.
Kretz also made the defensive play of the day, diving in right field to make a fine catch of a fly ball hit by Kyle Clausen in the fifth inning.
The No. 9 batter in McGann-Mercy’s order, Carl Dickinson, went 3 for 3 with a double.
A 10-run rally in the second inning helped Southold build a 14-3 lead. But McGann-Mercy closed the gap and pulled to within 15-13 in the seventh on a bases-loaded walk by Joe Crosser and a bloop infield single by Keith Schroeher with the bases loaded. Reliever Will Fujita was facing the bases loaded with two outs when he got Pascale to fly out to right field for the game’s final out.
“I know it’s the start of the season,” Matt Stepnoski said, “but that felt like a big win to me.”
The final inning was a bit nerve-wracking, nonetheless, for Carver. “I was telling these guys I’m getting too old for this,” he said.
As for the Stepnoski vs. Stepnoski drama, Carver didn’t dwell on that topic for too long.
“I just try to downplay it,” he said. “To be honest with you, it really doesn’t faze me at all. I came here to win a game — but it’s definitely interesting.”