07/26/14 9:38pm
07/26/2014 9:38 PM

TOMCATS 4, OSPREYS 1

Welcome to the league where parity is king.

This captivating horse race of a Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League regular season went down to the wire. With the top six teams running neck and neck in the standings, and a razor-blade thin difference between each of them, the scenario on Saturday was quite remarkable before teams played their 40th games of the 40-game season. All four playoff spots had finally been secured, but there was — get this — a four-way tie for first place.

How about that? (more…)

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.

06/17/13 8:33pm
06/17/2013 8:33 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork shortstop Eric Solberg tagging out Riverhead's Josh Mason, who tried to steal second base in the second inning.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork shortstop Eric Solberg tagging out Riverhead’s Josh Mason, who tried to steal second base in the second inning.

OSPREYS 6, TOMCATS 5

Baseball is a quirky game. One can never be sure what play will spark a win or what result can turn a season around.

For their part, the North Fork Ospreys hope they found the spark they were looking for on Monday.

The last-place Ospreys fizzled late in several Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League games this season, and one couldn’t help but wonder if another late-game meltdown was in the making on Monday against the Riverhead Tomcats.

Ironically, relief pitching, which had been the team’s Achilles’ heel, saved the day. Specifically, it was the relief pitching of Joe Salanitri that came through down the stretch as the Ospreys held on for a 6-5 victory that had to feel good for them. It was their first road win of the season and the Tomcats’ first home loss.

How big was the win?

“They’re all the same, but you want to win one every day,” Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello said. “We’re in a little bit of a hole with some losses. They’re all big for us right now.”

Speaking of big, Mike Hayden came up big for the Ospreys (4-8) with a three-hit day. It was Hayden’s double in the seventh inning that scored Jim Pjura for a 6-4 Ospreys lead.

That run proved to be an important one, as the Tomcats (5-5) made things uncomfortable for the visitors in the ninth. Jack Sundberg and pinch hitter Andre Jernigan opened the bottom half of the inning with singles for the Tomcats. Sundberg scored from second base when Jernigan’s single slipped past the left fielder, making it a one-run game.

That is when the Ospreys might have been thinking to themselves: “Oh no. Not again.”

After Ianniciello visited the mound, Salanitri (1-1) retired the next three batters for the win. That was the only run Salanitri allowed in his four and two-thirds innings in relief of Cody Johnson.

“It was down to the wire,” Sundberg said. “I thought we had it there for a second.”

Johnson had an odd pitching line. He allowed only two hits and two earned runs over his four and one-third innings, but what hurt him were walks, eight of them altogether.

Five of those walks came in succession in the third inning when the Tomcats scored four runs to tie the score at 4-4. Jerry Downs and Josh Mason drew bases-loaded passes before another two runs scored on an error.

“A lot of walks,” Sundberg said. “You got to be patient and really just wait for your pitch, and if it’s not there, just keep walking.”

The Ospreys avoided further damage when, with runners on second and third, Charley Gould shot a flare that right fielder Michael Fries made a nice shoestring catch on before firing a throw home to catcher Mike D’Acunti for a snazzy double play, ending the inning.

Tomcats manager Randy Caden disagreed vehemently with the umpire’s call, but he couldn’t ignore the fact that his team left 10 runners on base, hitting 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

“We left too many men on base,” Caden said. “We had to score in those opportunities.”

The Ospreys had scored in each of the first three innings. Pjura delivered a sacrifice fly in the first, Nick Heath tripled in two runs in the second, and one out after a Pjura ground-rule double, D’Acunti rapped a single to bring Pjura home in the third. Heath also stole three bases and walked twice.

In the sixth, the Ospreys went in front, 5-4, thanks to back-to-back singles by Eric Solberg and Austin Miller.

“We just came out aggressive and stayed that way the whole game,” said Hayden, who raised his batting average to .405 with his production on Monday. “Usually that’s what it takes to win games.”

The Tomcats’ starting pitcher, Mike Dolce, entered the game with a 0.90 earned run average, which ranked him second in the league. The Ospreys didn’t do badly against him, though, scoring four runs in the four innings he pitched before Caden brought in Christian Colletti to give him some work.

“That was pretty good because he usually doesn’t give up runs,” said Caden.

For the Ospreys, the manner in which they won might have been a sign of better things to come. When that was suggested to Ianniciello, the manager said, “One at a time.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Michael; Brosseau dove safely back to the bag before North Fork first baseman Mike Hayden could slap a tag on him.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead’s Michael Brosseau dove safely back to the bag before North Fork first baseman Mike Hayden could slap a tag on him.

06/02/13 8:45pm
06/02/2013 8:45 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's starting pitcher, Matt Peacock, gave up one earned run and four hits over six innings.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead’s starting pitcher, Matt Peacock, gave up one earned run and four hits over six innings.

TOMCATS 5, OSPREYS 4

It was a new beginning in more ways than one. A new season and a new league, and a season-opening game between two teams with plenty of new faces.

The seven eastern Suffolk County teams that formed a division of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League last year, broke off and formed their own circuit, the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. The HCBL, one of 12 summer leagues in the country that is sanctioned by Major League Baseball, was christened on Sunday with three games to start the season.

After the league president, Brett Mauser, threw out the ceremonial first pitch, the North Fork Ospreys and the Riverhead Tomcats engaged in an old-fashioned thriller. A home run by Jerry Downs kick-started a four-run seventh inning for the Tomcats, who held on for a 5-4 victory on their home field. Both teams held leads in the game, showing their ability to bounce back.

“We just kept fighting and fighting and fighting,” said Downs, the right fielder from St. Thomas University (Fla).

Downs is one of the many newcomers to the league. The Ospreys have two returning players in infielders Ryan Burns and Austin Miller. The Tomcats have two players back as well, infielder Joe Forney and pitcher Alex Summers.

The only player on either team with local ties is Ospreys outfielder Yianni Rauseo, a former Mattituck High School star who is coming off his sophomore season at Oswego State. He did not play in Sunday’s game.

The Tomcats have some interesting additions themselves. Two of their players, Ozney Guillén and Austin Davis, have fathers who played in the major leagues. Ozzie Guillén earned fame as both a player for a number of clubs and as a manager for the Chicago White Sox and the Miami Marlins. Doug Davis was a pitcher for several major league teams.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | The Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League president, Brett Mauser, is handed the ball by Riverhead Tomcats catcher Jason Gordon after throwing the ceremonial first pitch.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | The Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League president, Brett Mauser, is handed the ball by Riverhead Tomcats catcher Jason Gordon after throwing the ceremonial first pitch.

“It’s a new breed of kids, and they know baseball,” Riverhead manager Randy Caden said. “You can see they know baseball.”

They surely know a game goes nine innings, and not to give up hope until it is over.

Following Downs’ solo blast to left field, a sacrifice fly by Michael Brosseau brought in the second run of the seventh. Jason Gordon and Jonah Lakatos later scored on a throwing error, giving the Tomcats a 5-3 lead. The Tomcats might have done more damage that inning if not for a splendid play by Ospreys shortstop Joe Salanitri. With a runner on second base, Tyler Fox struck a looping liner that Salanitri did well to race back on for a running backhanded grab in shallow left field that saved a run and ended the inning.

Caden, who because of personal reasons didn’t arrive at the field until the bottom of the second inning, joked, “I got them four runs, great coaching from the bench.”

The Ospreys made things interesting in the ninth, though, pulling to within 5-4 when a two-out chopper by James Howard rolled dead just inside the third baseline for a run-scoring single.

The fans weren’t the only ones sitting on the edge of their seats. “Even though it was the first game, it was nerve-racking,” said Caden.

With the bases loaded, relief pitcher Brendan Mulligan got Tom O’Neill to bounce into a 6-4 fielder’s choice, ending the game. Mulligan earned the win, allowing three hits over three innings while striking out five.

“That’s just what we do,” Ospreys center fielder Nick Heath said. “We just don’t give up on anything, and I feel like if we play like that all season, we’re going to have a great season.”

The two starting pitchers did well. Anthony Rosati of the Ospreys gave up five hits and one earned run in three and a third innings. Matt Peacock of the Tomcats went six innings, giving up four hits and one earned run.

Both sides sounded encouraged by what they saw.

“There’s plenty of talent here,” Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello said. “We have good players from quality programs.”

Ianniciello noted that the summer league is a good opportunity for players to get at-bats and playing time. Some players coming off their freshmen seasons did not play much or at all if they were red-shirted. “A lot of them, for that reason, they’re eager to go,” said Ianniciello.

As is the case with many teams early in a college summer league season, the Tomcats were still awaiting the arrival of seven players. Because of that, the team didn’t have any extra field players available, so a pitcher, Lakatos, filled in as the designated hitter.

“We’re a little low right now, so as soon as we get a full team I think we’re going to be alright,” Caden said. “We made two [division] finals in three years, so I told these guys, maybe we can go all the way this year. It would be nice, you know.”

Those kind of thoughts come with opening day.

bliepa@timesreview.com