Luke DeVenney of the Riverhead Tomcats bounced into a fielder’s choice for the final out Sunday, and the Tomcats were done. With their 2-1 loss to the Westhampton Aviators, the Tomcats were swept in two games in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League semifinals.
Just like that, it was over for the Tomcats, two months to the day since they first gathered together. It was an intense run of 44 games in 60 days.
“It’s almost like a void right now,” manager Alex Nikolic said. “What am I going to do tomorrow?”
With the end of the season, the Tomcats shook hands with the Aviators before meeting with Nikolic in shallow right field. Then there were hugs and smiles among the Tomcats as they bid each other farewell before assembling for one final team photo.
“It honestly feels weird to think about the fact that we’ve only been together for two months because it feels like I’ve known a lot of these guys a lot longer, and the coaches, and for it to end like this, it kind of sucks,” shortstop Asher Lee-Tyson said. “Yeah, I’m really going to miss all these guys.”
With players spending day after day with each other, on the field and off, bonds and friendships are bound to develop.
“It’s like a second family,” pitcher Nick Morena said. “It’s great being with these guys. These guys are all great.”
Third baseman Joe Flynn said: “It’s tough knowing that you’re not going to come back here and play with these guys again. It’s kind of weird, a little bittersweet.”
The Tomcats returned to the playoffs for the first time in four years. With the massive player turnover from year to year, HCBL teams usually only have a few returning players, so institutional memory is almost nonexistent. Still, managers, coaches and players know what playoff baseball means. It means intensity and pressure.
In the playoffs, so much rides on each pitch, each at-bat, each play in the field.
“Regular-season baseball, you have a little more leeway with mistakes,” Alex Nikolic said. “You make a mistake, it’s always, you’ll come back tomorrow and correct it. Playoff baseball, you make a mistake in the first inning … we don’t have 18 games, let’s say, to make up for it. So, the mistakes are all magnified. I would say that’s the biggest thing.”
So, it’s a lot different than a typical game, huh?
“I’d say there’s a difference,” Asher Lee-Tyson said. “Everybody’s a little more focused. There’s a little more pressure. There’s just more fun, honestly. Everyone wants to win.”
The Valentino era
Tomcats pitcher Frank Valentino finished the regular season with the fifth-lowest ERA in the league, 2.63, to go with a 5-1 record. The New York Tech senior allowed 27 hits over 41 innings, with 40 strikeouts and 24 walks. The West Islip product’s strikeout total ranked third in the league.
Aviators fly in Game 1
Home runs by Matt Dunlevy, Aaron Ping and Jacob Jaye, along with a strong outing by pitcher Seamus Brazill, led the Westhampton Aviators to a 5-2 victory over the Montauk Mustangs in Game 1 of the league finals Tuesday at Aviator Field. Brazill limited the Mustangs to three hits and one run over seven innings. The Aviators built a 5-0 lead before Rob Vani led off the seventh with his second homer of the postseason.
Game 2 was scheduled for Wednesday in Montauk. A decisive third game will be played Friday in Westhampton, if necessary.
Photo caption: Westhampton and Riverhead players exchange handshakes following their semifinal series. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)