TOMCATS 4, OSPREYS 1
Welcome to the league where parity is king.
This captivating horse race of a Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League regular season went down to the wire. With the top six teams running neck and neck in the standings, and a razor-blade thin difference between each of them, the scenario on Saturday was quite remarkable before teams played their 40th games of the 40-game season. All four playoff spots had finally been secured, but there was — get this — a four-way tie for first place.
How about that?
The North Fork Ospreys, the Shelter Island Bucks, the Southampton Breakers and the Sag Harbor Whalers were all locked together in the top spot. The Westhampton Aviators and the Riverhead Tomcats were the unfortunate ones, sitting two games back and out of playoff contention.
“It’s wild,” Tomcats designated hitter Hunter Dolshun said. He added, “One game can make or break your season.”
One thing was certain before Saturday’s games: The defending champion Ospreys could not finish with the top seed for the playoffs since they didn’t hold any tiebreaker advantages. However, they did have a chance for the No. 2 seed and the home-field advantage that would have brought them in the semifinals.
A 4-1 loss to the Tomcats in their regular-season finale at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton spoiled that for the Ospreys, though. Their third straight defeat left them in a tie for third place with Shelter Island (both with 21-19 records) and a No. 4 playoff seed. They are scheduled to face first-place Southampton (22-18), winner of six straight and eight of their last 10 games, in the best-of-three semifinal series that starts on Monday.
Sag Harbor (22-18), which finished tied with Southampton, is paired against Shelter Island in the other semifinal series.
Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello knows the playoffs are a different animal. “It’s intense,” he said. “Every pitch starts to matter a little more.”
For the Ospreys, the playoffs have become a tradition. They have qualified for the playoffs in each one of their six years in existence.
The Tomcats (20-20) improved by two games from their record last season but still failed to reach the postseason for the second year in a row. They were officially eliminated Friday night when Southampton beat North Fork. Earlier in the day, the Tomcats were swept by Westhampton in a doubleheader.
Tomcats manager Randy Caden said that in years past his team’s playoff fate was in the hands of others, “but this year was in our hands and we just didn’t do it.”
At least the Tomcats went out on a winning note Saturday as four of their pitchers held the Ospreys to only one run. Matt Loutzenhiser, a lanky lefty, worked the first six innings. Tim Duggan (2-3), Tyler Palm and Matt Weissheier pitched an inning each after that, allowing only one hit among them.
Colton Rice and Mike Donadio both drew bases-loaded walks in the seventh inning to give the Tomcats a 3-1 lead. Dan Popio’s bloop single brought home another run in the eighth.
As rain drops started falling in the second, it was another bloop single, a two-out hit by Forrest Bramlett, that fell between the second baseman and the right fielder, bringing in the game’s first run.
The Ospreys pulled even in the fifth after Kyle Adie led off by clocking a standup triple. He later came home on Jake Cousins’ sacrifice fly.
Saturday brought to an end an intense two-month spell for the players, who were coming off a similar college season.
Adie said the Ospreys were a little banged up. “Like any season when you play a lot of games, it’s grueling,” he said. “Each person has their ups and downs. You go through slumps. You got to fight through it, stick with it, make some adjustments and find a way to get back on track.”
Ospreys catcher Brian Lau joined the team four weeks ago. The playoffs, he said, are when players need to elevate their game.
“No matter what I’m doing, I want to win,” he said. “This is no different. I want to win this just as bad as I want to win a national championship for my college, so I really want to make a push here.”
As the Ospreys know from their championship run last year, it’s anybody’s game in the playoffs. Especially this season.
“That’s the great thing about baseball,” Adie said, “you never know what can happen.”
The Tomcats had flirted with what would have been a rare “team triple crown.” MIKE DONADIO, a candidate for the league’s most valuable player award, finished as the batting average champion at .378 and HUNTER DOLSHUN tied MITCHELL MCGEEIN of Southampton for the league lead in runs batted in with 29. DAN POPIO tied with McGeein for second with five home runs.