Coming off a 2015 season the Riverhead Tomcats would rather forget, they opened the 2016 campaign with an inning they want to remember.
The Tomcats put up eight runs in the first inning of their first game, a 9-4 road win over the defending Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League champion Shelter Island Bucks on Friday.
“We’ve been rolling ever since,” said the team’s new manager, Alex Nikolic.
They followed that up by winning their home opener, 4-3, against the Sag Harbor Whalers on Monday. For an encore, Brennan Williams’ third-inning home run brought the Tomcats a 2-1 victory over the Montauk Mustangs on Tuesday at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton.
That’s an encouraging start to the season for a team that struggled to a 14-28 record and failed to make the playoffs last year.
In a league in which things can change dramatically from one season to the next, the Tomcats have seen a great deal of change. In addition to their new manager, they have all new players, with the exception of pitcher Dennis Buckstein and outfielder Alex Perry.
“We have all the pieces we need to be successful,” said Nikolic.
That includes Nick Osma, a senior from NCAA Division III Nichols College (Massachusetts) who brought his batting average up to a league-leading .500 with a 2-for-3 performance Tuesday.
“He’s come through to make a name for himself and his school,” said Nikolic.
Williams (.429) and Gavin Garay (.364) haven’t done too badly, either.
What has been most impressive to Williams, though, is the Tomcats’ pitching. “Every single guy can throw strikes,” he said. “No one’s really gotten hit too hard.”
Adam Heidenfelder picked up the win Tuesday, allowing three hits and one run over five innings. Nick Morena then worked three scoreless innings, striking out five, before Buckstein retired the side in order in the ninth inning for the save.
Thunder grumbled in the distance and a light drizzle fell at the start of the game. But it was Williams who delivered a game-changing bolt in the third. Osma drew a two-out walk before Williams stepped into the batter’s box. He saw a first-pitch fastball, about belt high, and jumped on it. “I like those pitches,” he said.
Williams deposited the ball over the rightfield fence for his first home run of the season, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.
“It felt really good to help contribute to a team win,” he said.
Montauk (1-3) had struck in the second. Zachary Pearson socked a double for the first of his two hits, advanced to third base on a walk and a steal, and then charged home on a groundout by Jordan Stephens.
Osma believes the Tomcats are a playoff team. “Everyone’s in it to win it this year,” he said. “Don’t sleep on the Tomcats this year.”
So, three games in, Nikolic has a 3-0 record. Any complaints?
He said, “I can’t think of any.”
Photo caption: Riverhead shortstop Michael Flynn backhands a grounder before throwing for an out. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)