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.
“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.