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.
“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.”