Try polling opposing coaches about who the best player is on Rye’s roster and the opinions will surely vary.
Is it George Kirby, a sophomore right-hander who has developed a reputation as a big-game pitcher with a perfect 10-0 record and minuscule 0.80 ERA?
Or is it Luke Meyerson, a senior left-hander who has just as many playoff wins as Kirby, a 1.32 ERA and serves as a key bat for the Garnets in the two-hole?
It could be Griffin Tutun, a Cornell-bound shortstop who leads the team with 28 RBI and anchors the lineup from the No. 3 spot.
But it’s hard to talk about Tutun without bringing up cleanup hitter Brendan Tripodi, an Elon-bound third baseman who has 25 RBI of his own and the most raw power on the team with three homers.
And we haven’t even mentioned Tim DeGraw, a junior center fielder who covers a ton of ground and leads the team with a .542 batting average and 32 steals.
Good luck finding a consensus.
“It’s kind of how you draw it up,” Rye coach Mike Bruno said of his balanced roster. “It just seems like it’s a different person in every single game. Everyone has made a key contribution to win a game at some point.”
The Garnets have reached the Class A state final four on Saturday in Binghamton because they do so many things well, but few saw this coming just a year ago. They managed just six wins in 2013 and failed to make it out of the sectional outbracket round, which makes this turnaround one of the most remarkable that Section 1 has seen in recent years.
“From the beginning of the season, we knew that we were going to be a good team,” DeGraw said. “We’re playing our best ball right now and hopefully we can win the state with it.”
The most obvious improvement for Rye has been the pitching, with Kirby and Meyerson developing a reputation as one of the best one-two punches in the state. Through six playoff games, each has three wins.
“Last year was both of their first years pitching on varsity, but I wasn’t surprised because I knew they both had it in them,” Bruno said. “They do complement each other. Luke is a lefty who throws a lot of off-speed, and George is more of a power righty who throws a lot of fastballs.”
Bruno said that he’s undecided about who will start which game on Saturday, but with both the state semis and final on the same day, the Garnets are well-equipped to handle the potential doubleheader with two pitchers that he calls, “1A and 1B.”
Behind them, Rye’s defense has been outstanding. The infield has been smooth – particularly on the left side – while DeGraw, Jay Little and Tim Hale form a speedy outfield trio.
“Timmy played shortstop last year, but moving him to center field has really paid off,” Bruno said. “Jay didn’t play much last year as a junior, but putting him into the starting lineup this year, him and Timmy pretty much get to anything.”
DeGraw also utilizes his wheels at the top of the order for the Garnets. As one of the leading stolen base artists in Section 1, he has the green light almost every time that he gets on (which is pretty often with a .618 on-base percentage).
“We have a stop sign for him, but he’s such a good base-runner and reads the pitchers so well, so he’s free to go usually,” Bruno said. “When Timmy gets on base, we can manufacture runs. When Tripodi and Griff are hitting, it really gets us going and has a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup.”
Tutun and Tripodi provide two soon-to-be Division 1 college bats in the middle of the order, but others such as Sam Lubeck, Chase Pratt and Brian Gardner lengthen the lineup. Rye has put up 18 runs in its last two games, as everything seems to be clicking at the right time.
But what may be the most encouraging thing that Bruno has seen is the way that this group has handled its success and maintained its hunger.
“They’re so loose,” he said. “I’ve never met a looser group, ever. They’re very confident, but not cocky. They’re just enjoying it.”
Photos by Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News