OSPREYS 4, TOMCATS 3
For over six innings, Mike Dolce had no-hit stuff going. That was before the North Fork Ospreys finally solved him and the rest of the Riverhead Tomcats.
The Ospreys, the hottest team in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, maintained their form at the start of a busy Saturday, executing a 4-3 triumph over the Tomcats. It was North Fork’s 10th win in 11 games.
A squeeze bunt by cleanup hitter Mike Hayden with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning was bobbled by the pitcher, allowing Nick Heath to race home for the winning run.
The Ospreys seem have the winning touch these days.
“We’re doing enough good things,” Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello said. “We’re getting enough good pitching, playing enough good defense, running the bases, a couple of timely hits.”
And at least one well-executed bunt.
Heath had drawn a one-out walk before Austin Miller drove a double that center fielder Jack Sundberg dove for but couldn’t hold. Joe Kuzia then intentionally walked designated hitter Jim Pjura to load the bases for Hayden, who faced a new pitcher, John Axley.
The Tomcats (18-22) had already been eliminated from contention for the league’s four-team playoffs before the first pitch was thrown, but the game had a little more significance to the Ospreys (21-18), who are hoping to secure third place in the final standings.
The game, postponed from the night before because of heavy rain at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic, was officially a home game for the Ospreys, but played on the Tomcats’ home field since the Ospreys’ place was unavailable.
Dolce, who was told he threw the ball 92 miles per hour on Scout Day, was the story for most of the contest. Before the game he told Tomcats manager Randy Caden that he would throw a no-hitter, and he made a good run at it in his final outing of the summer.
“It was the last day,” Dolce said. “I figured I would air it out a little bit, see what I had working.”
As it turned out, he had a lot working, using off-speed pitches to set up his fastball and give the Ospreys fits as they reached for pitches.
“He’s a gamer,” Tomcats manager Randy Caden said. “He said, ‘I’m going until I give up a hit, Coach.’ I said, ‘O.K.’ ”
A controversy seemed to be brewing when the first Ospreys batter in the seventh, Tom O’Neill, hit a grounder to shortstop Andre Jernigan. The third bounce shot up suddenly, striking Jernigan in the throat area and allowing O’Neill to reach base safely. A tough error was charged to Jernigan on the play, keeping the no-hitter alive.
It didn’t last long after that, though. Two batters later, Michael Fries ripped a single through the middle for North Fork’s first hit, drawing applause from his teammates. Dolce said he had been throwing sliders to Fries all game long except for that one fastball that Fries connected on for the hit. That came on Dolce’s 110th and final pitch of the day. With a potential no-hitter out of the way, Caden immediately went to the mound to take the right-hander from Farmingdale State out of the game.
“I just mixed up my pitches really well, kept them off-balance,” Dolce said. “They had no idea what was coming. That was my best weapon.”
Dolce, who led all NCAA Division III starters in earned run average in 2013, has one no-hitter to his credit. He said he was about 16 years old when he tossed one for a travel team. “It would have been cool to throw it at this level,” he said.
One of the two runs the Ospreys scored in the seventh from Eric Solberg’s two-run double were charged to Dolce. He finished with seven strikeouts, three walks and two hit batsmen.
The Ospreys held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before the Tomcats pulled ahead, 3-2, in the eighth through a bases-loaded walk by T. J. Earham and a run-scoring single by Jason Gordon on back-to-back plate appearances.
Pjura, who led off the eighth by slashing a double, later scored on a fielder’s choice that Mike D’Acunti hit into, tying it at 3-3.
Things seem to be going the Ospreys’ way these days, a startling turnaround from their 2-8 start to the season.
“We just flipped a switch,” Miller said. “I don’t know what happened.”
For one thing, the Ospreys’ bullpen has shown an ability to finish games, something that wasn’t apparent early in the season.
The Ospreys’ starting pitcher, Tyler Knight, pitched only one inning, which was the plan to keep him rested for the playoffs. J. A. Harville was then handed the ball and he responded with six innings of three-hit relief during which he did not allow an earned run.
The game was the first of five on a busy final day of the regular season, with the first, second, third and fourth places to be decided. Both the Tomcats and the Ospreys had second games to play later in the day. The Tomcats headed to Westhampton for their final game (a 6-4 loss to the Aviators) while the Ospreys were to host a night game against the Sag Harbor Whalers, who clinched first place earlier in the day.
The playoffs will begin Monday with best-of-three semifinal series. The Ospreys will play either the Whalers or the Aviators on the road in Game 1.
Said Miller, “I’m glad we’re rolling into the playoffs really hot right now.”