HCBL ALL-STAR GAME | NORTH 7, SOUTH 2
The North Fork Ospreys all stars and their manager wanted to take a group photo, but they were short one. So, they waited patiently while their on-field leader, Austin Miller, was being interviewed for a webcast. When Miller was done with the interview, he picked up his newly won prize, an engraved bat, and trotted over to his waiting teammates, who happily cheered and embraced him.
It was a warm welcome for the most valuable player of the 2014 Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game.
The question of who would be named the MVP was the subject of discussion and debate during Saturday night’s game. A strong case could have been made for the honor to go to a pitcher or two, which would have made the presentation of a bat ironic. But Miller’s selection solved that. After the game, the league president, Brett Mauser, made the announcement and handed the bat to Miller.
Miller said he had never been named an all-star MVP before and was caught by surprise.
“It’s a great honor,” said the Ospreys captain.
The right fielder reached base from all three of his plate appearances for the North in its 7-2 defeat of the South on the Ospreys’ home field, Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. Miller reached base on an error, scored a run, singled in a run, and was hit by a pitch, all under the watchful eyes of radar-gun-wielding professional scouts sitting behind the backstop.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Butler University product has been enjoying quite a second season with the Ospreys. He ranks eighth in the league with a .323 batting average and has stolen 10 bases.
“He’s great,” said Bill Ianniciello, the manager of the defending league champion Ospreys who ran the North team. “He does everything.”
For all of Miller’s efforts, the North’s standout pitching was the story of the game. After the Town of Southold’s supervisor, Scott Russell, threw out the ceremonial first pitch, it was the turn of the North’s pitchers to show what they had.
During one stretch from the first inning to the fifth, five North pitchers — Jake Cousins, Brenton Arriaga, Corbin Burnes, Trent Astle and Matt Weissheier — retired 12 consecutive batters before Trevor Abrams drew a walk. Arriaga of the Shelter Island Bucks and Burnes of the Riverhead Tomcats struck out the three batters they each faced in successive innings.
Altogether, nine North pitchers, pitching one inning each, allowed three hits, three walks, struck out 13 and hit a batter while being backed by clean defense.
“We had nine guys that went out there and shoved tonight,” Burnes said. “Everybody was strong. I think the plan for most guys tonight was to come out and just chuck it.”
The players for the game, selected by the managers, are recognized as the league’s best, but even all stars are human. To err is human, and the South committed seven errors, including five in one inning.
The Ospreys starter, Cousins, got the win, thanks to a spell of opportunism that saw the North score three runs in the second inning without the benefit of a hit. It didn’t need a hit, thanks to a remarkable succession of five errors.
As a matter of fact, the North didn’t get its first hit until the third when Miller socked a run-scoring single under the blue-orange sky of a setting sun. That made it 4-1, equaling the final score of last year’s mid-summer classic, also won by the North.
Brad Witkowski of the Ospreys was the only player in the game to get two hits. One of them was a single that made the score 7-1 in the seventh.
Trevor Freeman and Juan Soriano, both of the Shelter Island Bucks, singled in a run apiece.
Mike Donadio, the Tomcats center fielder who leads the league in batting average (.371) and is second in runs batted in (20), referred to it as “just a game like every other game.” He said, “The main thing is we were just trying to have fun.”
The South’s runs were scored on a single by Dan Rizzie and a double by Nolan Meadows.
Players from the Bucks, the Ospreys and the Tomcats played for the North. The South was represented by the Montauk Mustangs, the Sag Harbor Whalers, the Southampton Breakers and the Westhampton Aviators.
“This is the best of the best out here and it’s just great to be playing with all of them,” said Miller.
Ianniciello and his counterpart, Sag Harbor manager Danny Benedetti, achieved the considerable logistical task of getting all 55 players in the game.
It was a big night for the college players, who hope to extend their careers into the professional ranks. Playing in front of so many eyeballs is nothing new to them, though.
“There’s a little pressure on, but this is what we came here to do,” Witkowski said. “We came here to get showcased and have fun and get at-bats. It’s definitely a game to remember.”
Miller has a nice new bat to help him.