Like a game of musical chairs, a handful of teams are anxiously circling and vying for positions as the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League regular season approaches the final stretch. The Riverhead Tomcats are among those teams contending for three available playoff spots and hoping they will have a seat when the music stops.
The Tomcats, who reached the playoffs last year for the first time since 2012, are in high gear. After sliding into third place Sunday, they picked up their eighth win in 11 games today, with a helping arm from Darren Williams. Williams did not allow a hit through seven innings, conceding only one earned run while firing eight strikeouts in a 4-2 defeat of the Sag Harbor Whalers at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton.
Four of the league’s seven teams will reach the playoffs. The Tomcats (18-4-1) currently are third, behind the defending champion Westhampton Aviators (24-10) and Long Island Road Warriors (19-3-1). The Tomcats must also be concerned about the North Fork Ospreys (17-16) and Shelter Island Bucks (14-9-1).
“I think everyone in that dugout expects to make the playoffs,” said Williams (3-1, 2.25 ERA). “We’ll always have that mindset that every day at the park we expect to win and we have a chance to win this whole thing.”
If they keep playing the way they have of late, they certainly stand a good chance. The Tomcats received a boost today from Williams. The 6-foot-5 righthander from Eastern Kentucky University retired the first 11 batters he faced and took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Joe Fernando led off that inning by slipping a single through the left side of the infield. One out later, Michael Calamari and Kevin Buckley had back-to-back hits. Calamari ripped a liner and catcher Duncan Hewitt missed a sweeping tag as Fernando scored, making the score 4-2.
After hitting Justin Lebek for the second time in the game, Williams was pulled for new signing Nick Figari, who closed the game out, not allowing a hit over the final 1 2/3 innings.
Williams gave up three hits and one walk, but hit batters three times. He threw 65 of his 100 pitches for strikes.
“It was just one of those days where everything’s working and you’re hitting wherever you want,” he said. “I cruised through the first five or six innings and in that seventh inning, I was feeling it a little.”
The Tomcats carried a 4-0 lead into the seventh. Preston Pilat lashed an RBI single past pitcher Sam Ryan in the second. Two more runs followed in the fifth from an Alvin Melendez double and a Freddy Sabido looped single. The fourth run came in the sixth when, with two outs, Chase Mascolo knocked a ball back to reliever Michael DellaMedaglia that DellaMedaglia couldn’t handle, allowing Jackson Olson to score.
Sag Harbor (12-23) spoiled the shutout bid in the seventh when an error was followed by a hit batsman, a walk and another hit batsman.
The Whalers kept comeback hopes alive when Cole Coker started off the ninth by drawing a walk. But then Thomas Pipolo’s fly ball was caught by centerfielder Melendez, who quickly fired the ball to first baseman Brian Cox, doubling up Coker. Fernando popped up for the final out.
“We’re just rolling right now,” said Sabido, who had two hits to raise his batting average from .386 to .390, ranking him third in the league. “Everyone’s flowing offensively. Everyone’s swinging at good pitches and everyone’s doing what they got to do.”
Regarding his team’s playoff chances, Mascolo sounded confident. He said, “I think we’re going to make it.”
The music will stop playing soon. The Tomcats don’t expect to be left standing when it does.
Photo caption: Riverhead pitcher Darren Williams took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Sag Harbor. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)