In order to unseat defending champion Mattituck — or at least pick up a piece of the Suffolk County League VII boys golf pie — someone was going to have to beat the Tuckers first. Good luck.
But that is just what happened when Riverhead and Mattituck met for their final regular-season match Oct. 8. It wasn’t easy, though.
Anthony Caputo fired a 2-under-par 34, Chris Timpone carded a 37 and C.J. Mauceri had a 38 on a windy day on the front nine at Cherry Creek Golf Links in Riverhead, lifting the Blue Waves to a 6 1/2-2 1/2 triumph and the first league championship in team history. The Blue Waves and Tuckers, both 9-1, are co-champions.
The match snapped a remarkable string of 31 consecutive wins by Mattituck, which nonetheless extended its team-record league title streak to five straight years.
Mattituck’s previous league loss was in 2015 to Eastport-South Manor, said coach Paul Ellwood, who could not recall the last time the Tuckers lost at their home course, North Fork Country Club in Cutchogue.
“Mattituck … they’re just good every year,” Riverhead coach Steve Failla said. “The path to hanging a banner was going to have to go through Mattituck and it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Failla, in his sixth year coaching the team, knows league titles are special, but being the first Riverhead team to win one is extra special. No other Riverhead team will ever be able to say it did that.
“It’s always nice to be the first team to hang a banner,” he said. “They don’t gloat about it, they don’t admit it, but I know they take a very quiet satisfaction in being that team.”
Failla said, “Mattituck handles pressure better than anyone I’ve ever seen … because they have the experience of winning championships for a long time.”
But the pressure was on Riverhead in that final match, and the Blue Waves came through, led by Caputo (37.3 nine-hole average) and Timpone (37.8).
Failla said Caputo has “ice in his veins. Caputo is at his best when the pressure’s on.”
As for Timpone, Riverhead’s longest-serving player in his sixth varsity season, the coach said: “Timpone doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s one of the toughest young men, I know.”
What has also helped Riverhead this season has been its depth. When J.D. Davide was ill the final week of the regular season and another starter, Alex Meras, missed a week because of back tightness, other people stepped up. Noah Straus and Van Gatz, a senior who began playing last year for the first time, are among the team’s top six players.
Mattituck, which has a 66-5 record over six years, entered this season perceived by Ellwood as being a “slight underdog” to Riverhead.
In the loss to Riverhead, Mattituck’s Chris Talbot shot an even-par 36 and teammate Matt Seifert produced a 41. Talbot (39.3) and Seifert (39.7) have the lowest averages on the team, followed by Evan McCaffrey (41.7), Andrew McKenzie (42.1), Parker Sheppard (42.3) and Connor Fox (42.4).
“I thought we had a great season,” said Ellwood, who has a 98-8-1 record in his nine years as Mattituck’s coach. “We had no room for error.”
Riverhead looked headed to a victory over Mattituck on Sept. 17. Mattituck was trailing by nine strokes and Ellwood said he was preparing to congratulate the Blue Waves on a win when McCaffrey and McKenzie both came in with 3-over-par 38s at North Fork Country Club to make up 13 strokes from the fifth and sixth spots in the lineup. Mattituck was a 7-2 winner.
Mattituck had to deal with some adversity, too. McCaffrey broke a couple of bones in his hand over the summer and missed the first two matches. He made it back in time for the first Riverhead match, though, and that was critical. “If we don’t have him, we don’t win that match, we don’t have a share of the league title,” said Ellwood.
Players from both teams will compete Thursday in a conference tournament for Leagues VII and VIII at Rock Hill Golf & Country Club in Manorville. That will determine who qualifies for the county championships.
Meanwhile, Mattituck and Riverhead are both awaiting the bracket seedings for the first county team tournament. Failla said Riverhead, winner of six straight matches, has secured a bye into the second round.
Ellwood has cause to feel good about his team’s performance for the rest of the season. “I think our character is the same as all the teams in the past,” he said. “We don’t put pressure on ourselves to win. We usually play our best golf at the end of the season.”
Photo caption: The Riverhead boys golf team secured the first league championship in team history. (Credit: Steve Failla courtesy photo)