A win is better than a tie, and two wins, even more so.
Needing a tie from their regular-season-ending doubleheader in Westhampton Tuesday in order to qualify for the playoffs for a second straight year, the Riverhead Tomcats rose to the challenge in convincing fashion. They responded by taking both games from the Westhampton Aviators, 13-4 and 6-4, at Aviator Field.
In doing so, the Tomcats finished in fourth place, securing a place in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League semifinals against the same Aviators, the defending league champions who finished first. The best-of-three series will start Thursday in Westhampton and move to Calverton on Friday. If needed, a third game will be played Saturday in Westhampton.
The other semifinal series pits the North Fork Ospreys against the Long Island Road Warriors.
The Tomcats (21-18-2) turned the offense on full blast in Game 1 Tuesday, producing 16 hits off three Westhampton pitchers in the seven-inning game. Jackson Olson (4-for-5, five RBIs) homered twice (he had a third blast on the day in the second game, giving him five for the season). Freddy Sabido also homered (his fourth of the summer), driving in four runs on 3-for-4 hitting. Alvin Melendez went 4-for-5 with two runs scored, an RBI and a stolen base.
Former Shoreham-Wading River High School player Nick Bottari (2-for-3, two RBIs) slugged his 10th home run of the season for Westhampton. That tied him with Sag Harbor’s Justin Lebek for the league lead. Bottari also finished the regular season with a league-leading .454 batting average.
Michael Tarpey (2-1, 4.33 ERA) picked up the win. The righthander allowed three runs and four hits in five innings of work. He struck out five and walked two.
The teams matched runs through three innings before the Tomcats took the lead for good in the fourth. Preston Pilat scored on a Brian Cox sacrifice fly, snapping a 2-2 tie.
The Tomcats then tacked on six runs in the fifth to pull away. Dai Dai Otaka (single), Cox (hit by pitch) and Melendez (single) each picked up an RBI before Sabido doubled in two runs and an error allowed Melendez to scoot home.
In Game 2, a pair of runs in the sixth gave the Tomcats a 6-2 lead. Both of those runs came from Jacob Abbott’s single.
Melendez, Olson and Abbott each had two hits as the Tomcats piled up 10 hits.
Westhampton received solo homers from A.J. Montoya (his fourth of the season) and Griffin Hulecki (his second of the season).
Tomcats pitcher Nick Morena (3-5) went the first five innings, giving up two runs and four hits. He walked five and struck out four.
For the doubleheader, the Tomcats left 22 runners on base.
Westhampton (27-14) needed one more win to break the franchise record for regular-season wins that it set last year. Another win by the Aviators also would have broken the HCBL single-season of 27, which is shared by the 2010 North Fork Ospreys (27-14) and 2015 Shelter Island Bucks (27-15-1). All three of those teams won the league title those seasons.
* Big week for Bottari
Nick Bottari of Wading River was recognized by HCBL coaches for his performance in the seventh week of the season. The Westhampton Aviators first baseman was named the HCBL Player of the Week for hitting .565 as the Aviators secured the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. He scored six runs and drove in 13 RBIs for the week, including four in a two-homer game against Long Island. Bottari led the league in batting average (.454), tied for the league lead in homers (10) and was second in RBIs (38). He came close to becoming the league’s first Triple Crown winner since Peter Greskoff of the Tomcats in 2009.
Photo caption: Jackson Olson is congratulated by Riverhead teammates after hitting the first of his three home runs in Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep of Westhampton. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)