GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead shortstop Keith Herring cleanly handled a hard-hit grounder.
It wasn’t the sort of beginning to the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League season that the slumping Zach Mathieu had been looking for. He had managed only one hit and no runs batted in from his first 10 at-bats, not the type of numbers to put a smile on the Riverhead Tomcats designated hitter’s face.
“I’ve had a rough start so far,” he said. “I’m looking to turn things around.”
Monday was a start.
Mathieu drove in all three runs and five Tomcats pitchers shared a one-hitter as host Riverhead topped the Sag Harbor Whalers, 3-0. It was the fourth win in five games for Riverhead, which improved its record to 4-3 while Sag Harbor dropped to 1-5.
Mathieu supplied the game’s first hit and it traveled quite a distance. Alex Gouin led off the bottom of the second inning by drawing a walk. Two outs later, Mathieu socked his first home run of the young season over center field for a 2-0 lead.
In the fourth, Gouin ripped a vicious lined single off pitcher Brian Russell’s back. Russell remained in the game. Two errors in the inning enabled Gouin to reach third base. He scored from there when Mathieu hit into a fielder’s choice.
In Mathieu’s third and final at-bat, he grounded out to the shortstop. By the game’s end, his batting average had jumped to .154. It’s headed in the right direction.
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Aaron Slegers (1-0), one of five Riverhead pitchers to share in the one-hitter, got the win.
Prior to the game, Riverhead coaches worked with Mathieu on some of the subtleties of hitting.
“We said, ‘Relax and go swing the bat like you did in college and look up the middle,’ and he got a hold of one, and it was nice,” Tomcats Manager Randy Caden said. “He’s a big, strong kid. I think he’s going to do well once he gets in a groove.”
The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Mathieu surely has power on his side. In his recently completed freshman season at Franklin Pierce University (N.H.), Mathieu posted a .297 batting average with three home runs and 37 RBI in 54 games.
“Hitting’s a big part of my game,” said Mathieu, who also plays first base. “I just like to stay inside the ball and try to go to the other field and hit it where it’s pitched. Hopefully today will help me see the pitches a little better.”
Aaron Slegers (1-0), who came on in relief of Nick Albero, got the win. They both went three innings each. After Slegers pitched, David Gibson, Casey Smith and Sean Cabrera worked an inning each, Cabrera striking out the side in the ninth for his first save. Albero made his first start of the season.
Riverhead’s pitching coach, George Brown, a former St. John’s University pitcher who was released by the St. Louis Cardinals, has placed an emphasis on throwing strikes and getting ahead in counts.
“It’s done a lot for us,” the 6-foot-10 Slegers said. “They’re definitely a potent offense and to hold them to one hit is a great achievement for our bullpen and our pitching staff. It’s definitely something to build on as we move forward in the season.”
Altogether, the five Riverhead pitchers had six strikeouts, two walks, hit a batter and allowed seven base runners.
“We hammered the zone,” said Slegers.
Sag Harbor didn’t manage a hit until Chris Gili delivered a sharp two-out single to left after Kyle Weeks reached base on a throwing error in the sixth.
Sag Harbor’s greatest scoring threat up to that point came in the seventh when its first two batters, Nate La Pointe and Joey Espinal, reached base on errors, La Pointe’s place awarded by a catcher’s interference call. The runners advanced to second and third on a sacrifice bunt. Then La Pointe was thrown out at home plate by the third baseman, Gouin, while trying to score on a bouncer hit by Brian Bruening. A groundout after that ended the threat, leaving two runners on base.
“Pitching’s the key,” said Caden, who indicated that he will use the first half of the season to define pitching roles. “They threw strikes.”
Gouin went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk, raising his batting average to a team-leading .357, with a .438 on-base percentage.
But it was good day for Mathieu as well, a day he had been waiting for.
“He’s always swung it well,” Slegers said. “He’s just hit it hard to people, just getting real unlucky. He’s another one in our lineup who can be real dangerous.”
Asked if this can be a turnaround game for him, Mathieu replied: “I’m hoping. I’m definitely hoping.”