07/13/14 12:40am
07/13/2014 12:40 AM
Jake Cousins of the North Fork Ospreys started a stretch during which North pitchers retired 12 straight South batters. (Credit: Garret Meade)

Jake Cousins of the North Fork Ospreys started a stretch during which North pitchers retired 12 straight South batters. (Credit: Garret Meade)

HCBL ALL-STAR GAME | NORTH 7, SOUTH 2

The North Fork Ospreys all stars and their manager wanted to take a group photo, but they were short one. So, they waited patiently while their on-field leader, Austin Miller, was being interviewed for a webcast. When Miller was done with the interview, he picked up his newly won prize, an engraved bat, and trotted over to his waiting teammates, who happily cheered and embraced him.

It was a warm welcome for the most valuable player of the 2014 Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game. (more…)

08/04/13 11:24pm
08/04/2013 11:24 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | The North Fork Ospreys formed a happy pile after winning their second league championship in four years.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | The North Fork Ospreys formed a happy pile after winning their second league championship in four years.

HCBL FINALS, GAME 3 | OSPREYS 2, BATTLECATS 1

The conclusion to the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League’s inaugural season was nothing less than fantastic for the North Fork Ospreys. At the same time, it was fantastic in another sense — as in remarkable.

Who would have believed that a team that started the season by losing eight of its first 10 games could rise to the top? Who would have believed that a team that spent some time in last place would pull itself above all the others?

Well, the Ospreys did.

While the Ospreys may have been true believers in themselves, the rest of the league received plenty of convincing Sunday night when the North Fork club captured the first HCBL championship in the decisive third game of the league finals. Gloves and caps flew in the air after Ospreys center fielder Nick Heath caught a fly ball for the final out in a thrilling 2-1 triumph over the Center Moriches Battlecats. Moments later, the Ospreys were piling on top of each other in front of the pitchers’ mound at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic.

“I threw my glove in the air and I tackled [relief pitcher David] Deliz on the mound,” Ospreys third baseman Ryan Burns said. “The next thing I know is I was getting crushed on the mound and getting dirt rubbed in my face. I loved it. Dirt never tasted so sweet.”

It is the second league title in four years for the Ospreys, who were the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2010.

It was high drama as the Ospreys snapped a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning. With two outs, Heath came through with an infield single that second baseman Stefan Trosclair couldn’t barehand. After the fleet-footed Heath stole second base, Austin Miller rapped a double to left field, bringing Heath home with the go-ahead run.

For his efforts, Heath was named the championship series most valuable player. He had a .455 batting average, scored five runs, drove in two runs and stole three bases.

The Battlecats made the Ospreys uneasy in the ninth, though. Mike Roehrig drew a one-out walk before advancing to third base on a wild pitch and a passed ball. But Deliz struck out Trosclair and then got Zach Persky to fly out to Heath, ending the game and starting the celebrations as Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played over the sound system.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Center Moriches pitcher Mike O'Reilly, a former Shoreham-Wading River High School star, had eight strikeouts in seven innings.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Center Moriches pitcher Mike O’Reilly, a former Shoreham-Wading River High School star, had eight strikeouts in seven innings.

After the game, the league president, Brett Mauser, presented the championship trophy to Ospreys general manager Jeff Standish, who in turn passed it over to his jubilant players. They raised it high in the air for all to see.

“It’s just a great success,” Miller said. “… This is what we came here to do.”

That included winning two playoff series in six pressure-packed games.

“The pitchers really competed in the tough spots, and we made the key plays when we had to and got the critical hits we needed,” Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello said. “It wasn’t one thing. It was a little bit of everything.”

The Ospreys, who finished the regular season in third place, came a long way. They played like champions over the past few weeks, winning 15 of their last 18 games.

“We were resilient,” Burns said. “We never gave up, and that is a great story, I guess. You can’t write that.”

The Ospreys wrote their own script, turning themselves into the league’s hottest team at the right time.

“At the beginning of the year, everyone was like, ‘You guys are horrible,’ and I’m like, ‘No, we’re fine,’ ” shortstop Eric Solberg said. “We started winning games and everything clicked together.”

As they did Sunday.

The Ospreys had the first break of the game. Heath socked a double to lead off the first. A wild pitch and an errant throw on the same play allowed him to trot home for a 1-0 lead.

It wasn’t until the eighth when the Battlecats drew even. A Persky hit and walks by Nick Nunziato and Rob Moore loaded the bases for Matt Hinchy (3 for 4), who singled to tie it at 1-1.

The Battlecats were denied further runs thanks to a sensational play by Solberg. Charles Galiano ripped a grounder back up the middle, and Solberg made a great diving stop before stepping on second base and firing to first baseman Mike Hayden for a double play to end that half of the inning. Solberg said it was the greatest play he ever made in his baseball career.

“That’s a lifetime play for a kid like that,” Ianniciello said. “You can’t make a better play in a more important spot.”

The Ospreys had a tough task batting against Battlecats pitcher Mike O’Reilly, a former Shoreham-Wading River High School star who plays for Flagler College (Fla.). O’Reilly recorded eight strikeouts, giving up five hits and one walk over seven innings.

O’Reilly didn’t factor in the decision, and neither did the Ospreys’ starting pitcher, David Jesch. Jesch also went seven innings, with nine strikeouts and one walk. He scattered eight hits.

Deliz got the win, striking out three in one and two-third innings.

And so the great turnaround brought about the ending the Ospreys were looking for.

“We knew it was going to be a long summer and anything can happen, so we just never quit,” Heath said. “You never know what’s going to happen in baseball.”

A group of players who were strangers only two months ago managed to pull together for a memorable finish. It’s a team Ianniciello will not easily forget.

“I remember every team,” he said, “but a championship team and a team that came as far as this team came, that’s a special group, absolutely.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork players posing for photos with the trophy they won as the first Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League champions.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork players posing for photos with the trophy they won as the first Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League champions.

07/27/13 3:06pm
07/27/2013 3:06 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mike Dolce had a no-hitter going for the Riverhead Tomcats before surrendering a single to the North Fork Ospreys in the seventh inning.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mike Dolce had a no-hitter going for the Riverhead Tomcats before surrendering a single to the North Fork Ospreys in the seventh inning.

OSPREYS 4, TOMCATS 3

For over six innings, Mike Dolce had no-hit stuff going. That was before the North Fork Ospreys finally solved him and the rest of the Riverhead Tomcats.

The Ospreys, the hottest team in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, maintained their form at the start of a busy Saturday, executing a 4-3 triumph over the Tomcats. It was North Fork’s 10th win in 11 games.

A squeeze bunt by cleanup hitter Mike Hayden with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning was bobbled by the pitcher, allowing Nick Heath to race home for the winning run.
The Ospreys seem have the winning touch these days.

“We’re doing enough good things,” Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello said. “We’re getting enough good pitching, playing enough good defense, running the bases, a couple of timely hits.”

And at least one well-executed bunt.

Heath had drawn a one-out walk before Austin Miller drove a double that center fielder Jack Sundberg dove for but couldn’t hold. Joe Kuzia then intentionally walked designated hitter Jim Pjura to load the bases for Hayden, who faced a new pitcher, John Axley.

The Tomcats (18-22) had already been eliminated from contention for the league’s four-team playoffs before the first pitch was thrown, but the game had a little more significance to the Ospreys (21-18), who are hoping to secure third place in the final standings.

The game, postponed from the night before because of heavy rain at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic, was officially a home game for the Ospreys, but played on the Tomcats’ home field since the Ospreys’ place was unavailable.

Dolce, who was told he threw the ball 92 miles per hour on Scout Day, was the story for most of the contest. Before the game he told Tomcats manager Randy Caden that he would throw a no-hitter, and he made a good run at it in his final outing of the summer.

“It was the last day,” Dolce said. “I figured I would air it out a little bit, see what I had working.”

As it turned out, he had a lot working, using off-speed pitches to set up his fastball and give the Ospreys fits as they reached for pitches.

“He’s a gamer,” Tomcats manager Randy Caden said. “He said, ‘I’m going until I give up a hit, Coach.’ I said, ‘O.K.’ ”

A controversy seemed to be brewing when the first Ospreys batter in the seventh, Tom O’Neill, hit a grounder to shortstop Andre Jernigan. The third bounce shot up suddenly, striking Jernigan in the throat area and allowing O’Neill to reach base safely. A tough error was charged to Jernigan on the play, keeping the no-hitter alive.

It didn’t last long after that, though. Two batters later, Michael Fries ripped a single through the middle for North Fork’s first hit, drawing applause from his teammates. Dolce said he had been throwing sliders to Fries all game long except for that one fastball that Fries connected on for the hit. That came on Dolce’s 110th and final pitch of the day. With a potential no-hitter out of the way, Caden immediately went to the mound to take the right-hander from Farmingdale State out of the game.

“I just mixed up my pitches really well, kept them off-balance,” Dolce said. “They had no idea what was coming. That was my best weapon.”

Dolce, who led all NCAA Division III starters in earned run average in 2013, has one no-hitter to his credit. He said he was about 16 years old when he tossed one for a travel team. “It would have been cool to throw it at this level,” he said.

One of the two runs the Ospreys scored in the seventh from Eric Solberg’s two-run double were charged to Dolce. He finished with seven strikeouts, three walks and two hit batsmen.

The Ospreys held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before the Tomcats pulled ahead, 3-2, in the eighth through a bases-loaded walk by T. J. Earham and a run-scoring single by Jason Gordon on back-to-back plate appearances.

Pjura, who led off the eighth by slashing a double, later scored on a fielder’s choice that Mike D’Acunti hit into, tying it at 3-3.

Things seem to be going the Ospreys’ way these days, a startling turnaround from their 2-8 start to the season.

“We just flipped a switch,” Miller said. “I don’t know what happened.”

For one thing, the Ospreys’ bullpen has shown an ability to finish games, something that wasn’t apparent early in the season.

The Ospreys’ starting pitcher, Tyler Knight, pitched only one inning, which was the plan to keep him rested for the playoffs. J. A. Harville was then handed the ball and he responded with six innings of three-hit relief during which he did not allow an earned run.

The game was the first of five on a busy final day of the regular season, with the first, second, third and fourth places to be decided. Both the Tomcats and the Ospreys had second games to play later in the day. The Tomcats headed to Westhampton for their final game (a 6-4 loss to the Aviators) while the Ospreys were to host a night game against the Sag Harbor Whalers, who clinched first place earlier in the day.

The playoffs will begin Monday with best-of-three semifinal series. The Ospreys will play either the Whalers or the Aviators on the road in Game 1.

Said Miller, “I’m glad we’re rolling into the playoffs really hot right now.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork shortstop Eric Solberg is about to tag out Riverhead's Jack Sundberg, who tried to steal second base in the third inning.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork shortstop Eric Solberg is about to tag out Riverhead’s Jack Sundberg, who tried to steal second base in the third inning.

07/13/13 11:39pm
07/13/2013 11:39 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | The caps of the Riverhead Tomcats, the North Fork Ospreys and the Shelter Island Bucks on top of the North All Stars dugout. For one game, representatives of those teams were teammates.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | The caps of the Riverhead Tomcats, the North Fork Ospreys and the Shelter Island Bucks on top of the North All Stars dugout. For one game, representatives of those teams were teammates.

HCBL ALL-STAR GAME | NORTH ALL STARS 4, SOUTH ALL STARS 1 (10 INNINGS)

It’s safe to say that the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League does things differently.

For one thing, the first-year league’s inaugural all-star game was played a full 10 innings, not out of necessity, but in order to give the 10 pitchers on each team a chance to pitch.

What would Abner Doubleday think?

Well, for one thing, he might have been the first to applaud another oddity, or rather a treat to behold. Matt Peacock, a closer for the Riverhead Tomcats, snatched a line drive out of the air with his bare hand to earn the save for the North All Stars in their 4-1 victory over the South All Stars on Saturday night at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. Numerous witnesses said it was something they had never seen before.

“Maybe in a video game, but not in real life,” said Shelter Island Bucks catcher Joe Burns, who joined with other representatives of the Bucks, the North Fork Ospreys and the Tomcats to form the North team. “That was crazy.”

Peacock turned in the undoubted play of the game — if not the year. After striking out two straight batters with two runners on base, he made the remarkable barehanded grab of the liner hit by Mitch Montaldo in the top of the 10th inning, clinching the game. Peacock held the ball up in his bare right hand for a moment as if he had just surprised himself with what he did. Spectators were stunned.

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Shelter Island catcher Joe Burns was named the most valuable player of the inaugural Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shelter Island catcher Joe Burns was named the most valuable player of the inaugural Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game.

“It just kind of happened, a reaction like, oh, a ball, catch the ball and out,” said Peacock, who claimed afterward that his hand felt fine. “I saw it come at me. It wasn’t [hit] that hard. I didn’t want him to get to first.”

Like others, Riverhead third baseman Andre Jernigan had trouble believing what he saw. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve seen in a while,” he said.

Randy Caden, the Tomcats manager who served as the North’s head coach, said he would have to explain to Peacock’s college coach at South Alabama what happened. “It was an amazing play,” said Caden.

A fitting one, perhaps, given the high-caliber performances on display. Neither side made an error over the course of the 10 innings.

Some may say it was only an exhibition, but it was the league’s showcase event. Playing in front of major league scouts, players undoubtedly wanted to look their best.

“You get to see how talented this league is, a lot of great players,” Ospreys pitcher Dalton Curtis said. “You want to do well because you’re representing your team and everything.”

If some nerves were involved, that would only be natural.

“If anything, I think everybody is kind of amped up, a little nervous, but once the first pitch is thrown, all the nerves go away,” Jernigan said. “It’s just another game of baseball and it’s really fun. Have fun with it.”

Burns and Jernigan both clocked two-run doubles, accounting for the North’s runs. Burns, a St. John’s player whose two-out double in the third inning brought the North a 2-1 lead, received the game’s most valuable player award for his contributions.

“It’s a great honor to come out here with a bunch of great players and hold this up at the end,” said Burns, clutching the MVP award and the bat he was presented with after the game. “Honestly, I was just going in trying to have some fun tonight.”

The South, which included players from the Center Moriches Battlecats, the Sag Harbor Whalers, the Southampton Breakers and the Westhampton Aviators, scored first in the third. Riverhead pitcher Brendan Mulligan, who was credited with the win, issued full-count walks to both David Real and Ryan Spaulding before Kyle Zech dropped a single into shallow left-center field, loading the bases. Joey Havrilak then delivered a sacrifice fly.

But walks helped the North pull in front almost immediately after that. In the bottom half of the inning, Austin Miller of the Ospreys and Jerry Downs of the Tomcats drew passes before Burns brought them home with his double.

The North gave itself more of a cushion in the fifth. After Justin Jones worked a leadoff walk, his Bucks teammate Kevin Brantley singled. Then Jernigan golfed a two-bagger to deep center field, scoring them both.

The South made things interesting in the 10th when its first two batters, David Leiderman and Dan Shea, reached base on an infield single and a walk. But then Peacock buckled down, striking out Zach Persky and Justin Montemayor before making that memorable grab.

“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Jernigan said of his all-star experience. “You see some amazing things.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | The North All Stars during the singing of the national anthem.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | The North All Stars during the singing of the national anthem.