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.

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