OSPREYS 3, TOMCATS 2
Like the blinding orange orb in the evening sky that descended on a slight arc toward left field at Jean W. Cochran Park, the sun is setting on the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League regular season.
The race for the playoffs is tight, remarkably tight. Like a game of musical chairs, six contending teams are cautiously circling, eyeballing the four playoff spots. When the music stops playing, two of those teams will be left standing, and disappointed.
Given the circumstances, the value of every win is magnified. Who knows how much good the North Fork Ospreys did for themselves by pulling off the stunning escape act they executed on Tuesday night?
After being held to only one hit through the first seven innings, the Ospreys produced three in the eighth. Two of them were home runs by Casey Baker and Luke Stampfl for a 3-2 triumph over the Riverhead Tomcats in Peconic. The Ospreys are 5-1 against the Tomcats.
The result left the Ospreys (21-16) in first place, one and a half games ahead of the Tomcats and the Sag Harbor Whalers, who are both 19-17. The Shelter Island Bucks are two games back, the Southampton Breakers are two and a half games off the pace, and the Westhampton Aviators are three games behind the league leaders.
That’s right, six teams within three games of each other as the 40-game regular season winds toward the end. No team has clinched a postseason berth yet, and only the first-year Montauk Mustangs have been eliminated from playoff contention. The playoffs are scheduled to start Monday.
The defending champion Ospreys pulled out a magical victory in comeback fashion. With their bats stymied for most of the game and trailing by 2-0, Ryan Mahoney led off for the Ospreys in the eighth by tapping a grounder and then beating the second baseman’s throw to first base. Shortly after, Baker slammed his first home run of the season, tying the score at 2-2. One batter later, Stampfl crushed a fastball for his third homer of the summer, putting the Ospreys ahead.
Reliever Andrew Burnick (1-1) retired five of the last six batters he faced, four on strikeouts, to pick up the win.
The Tomcats wasted a fine performance by their starting pitcher, Zach Hamilton. Hamilton had the Ospreys looking perplexed during the five scoreless innings he pitched. A second-inning single by Kyle Adie was the only hit Hamilton surrendered. The right-hander walked four, struck out three and hit a batter before making his exit after 82 pitches.
It wasn’t a lot, but the Tomcats did give their pitchers a couple of runs to work with. Dan Popio clocked his fourth home run of the season in the second, and Forrest Bramlett slugged a two-out single in the sixth to make it 2-0.
The Ospreys didn’t get a bad outing from their starter, either. Jake Cousins lasted seven innings, during which he allowed five hits and one earned run. His 104-pitch effort included two walks and six strikeouts.