08/06/12 6:00pm
08/06/2012 6:00 PM

GARRETT MEADE FILE PHOTO | Shaun Hansen in his high school playing days.

Shaun Hansen might be the perfect example of the big fish-little pond syndrome.

During his high school playing days for the former combined Southold/Greenport baseball team and then Southold and Greenport separately, Hansen was a dominant force as both a hitter and a pitcher. He was a monster at the plate who hit for power and average. As a pitcher, he routinely fired fastballs past overmatched batters.

Then again, that was then, in the small pond of high school baseball on eastern Long Island. The present situation is quite different for Hansen. At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 205 pounds, Hansen is a sizable speciman, but he is no longer a big fish. For one thing, he’s no longer playing in the proverbial little pond. He is in a much larger pool now. As Hansen has found, college baseball is a whole new ball game.

Hansen learned early on in his freshman season at Suffolk County Community College that he needed to adjust to a higher level, not to mention a new position: third base.

“It was a lot different than high school, a lot more intense, but I like that,” Hansen said. “Everyone is an all star. I would go out there and I would play terrible the first couple of games. I would be like: ‘Wow, I need to go to the gym. I need to do something different to help me get better. I need to get in the cage more. I need to do this and that.’ It made me want to do better, want to work harder to get better.”

In continuance of that pursuit, Hansen played for the Riverhead Tomcats in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League this summer. He played first base, took some swings as a designated hitter and pitched some.

Hansen came off the bench in a pinch-hitting role last Thursday to line a single over third baseman Bobby Geren in the ninth inning of a 12-4 loss to the Southampton Breakers in Game 2 of the Hampton Division finals. The victory brought the Breakers their first division championship.

But Hansen, who throws and bats right-handed, had difficulty with a back injury earlier this summer. “They found out that my vertebrae has actually shifted a little bit so it’s pinching my muscle,” he said. “They stretched me out and I guess they popped it back into place.”

The back trouble didn’t help Hansen’s numbers with the Tomcats. He batted .077 (3 for 39) during the regular season with two runs batted in. As a pitcher, he went 1-2 with a 13.50 earned run average. In the nine and one-third innings he pitched, he issued 10 walks against nine strikeouts.

Of course, the other side to this is the quality of the competition he faced in the ACBL, which draws college players from various parts of the country.

“Playing in this league, it’s a little overwhelming at first,” said Hansen. He added: “Really, when I came here, I just wanted to get the experience. I wanted to play against good competition. Even if I did poorly, either way it’s a good experience. It is summer ball. It really doesn’t mean much. It’s just about getting better. It’s what the league is about, developing players.”

Riverhead coach Randy Caden said Hansen has the size and strength to be a good player. “I think he has the ability, he just doesn’t believe in himself yet,” Caden said. “It’s a confidence thing with him. … He’s never played on this level, as most kids haven’t. It’s a new challenge. I try to tell him, ‘It will come; it will come.’ But that’s the thing, as you go up, the competition gets tougher.”

Hansen was in for a surprise this past college season at Suffolk when he was asked to play third base, a position he had little experience at, to fill a team need. He also pitched for the Sharks. Hansen, whose father Brian coached the North Fork Ospreys last year, said he would like to play for a four-year school after completing his sophomore year at Suffolk.

While Hansen may like to reminisce about his high school playing days occasionally, he knows they are done and over with.

“In high school I could throw a fastball right down the middle and usually two out of three times they’re not going to hit it,” he said, “but if I throw one down here, someone’s going to take it out of the park easily.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

08/02/12 8:10pm
08/02/2012 8:10 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Bryan Palermo of Riverhead rocked a single off the pitcher’s mound in the second inning.

HAMPTON DIVISION FINALS, GAME 2 | BREAKERS 12, TOMCATS 4

In the quirky world of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League postseason, where up can be down and down can be up, playoff seedings don’t count for a heck of a lot these days. The top two seeds in the Hampton Division (the Shelter Island Bucks and the North Fork Ospreys), for example, didn’t make it out of the division semifinals.

Nonetheless, there have been a couple of constants. For one thing, it remains a hitters’ league, particularly late in the regular season when pitching staffs start running short on arms. Also, it’s still safe to say that the team that gets hot at the right time often wins.

Meet the hot Southampton Breakers, the 2012 Hampton Division champions.

The third-seeded Breakers became well-deserved owners of that title Thursday evening when they turned in a 12-4 shellacking of the No. 4 Riverhead Tomcats to take the series in two games. It is the first division championship for the Breakers since the team’s inaugural season in 2009.

“We really felt like we were the best team,” Breakers right fielder Brenton Allen said. “Honestly, we felt that from day one, that we were the best team in this league no matter if we were losing games or winning games, and I felt like this was a chance for us to show it, to prove it. The best team won it.”

The Breakers will face an unknown opponent in a league semifinal on Saturday for the right to play for the league title on Sunday.

Second baseman Jon Testani spearheaded Southampton’s 15-hit attack with four hits and four runs batted in. He homered for the Breakers as did Allen (3 for 5, three runs batted in) and Rob Fonseca.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Former Riverhead High School pitcher Steve Kimmelman started for the Tomcats.

The Breakers posted multi-run innings in five of the nine innings. They assumed a 4-0 lead by the second inning and never trailed, although the Tomcats did pull as close as within 5-4 in the fifth after Josh Mason smashed a run-scoring single. Then the Breakers put up three runs in the sixth, two in the seventh and two in the eighth.

Game over. Series over.

Offense has been the keyword this season, with all sorts of Hampton Division batting records being set. Among them was a new regular-season mark for home runs: 12 by Mason.

“I thought there was a lot more hitting this year,” said Riverhead coach Randy Caden, whose team played in the division finals for the second time in three years. “There was a lot of offense this year. There was less low-scoring games than high-scoring games.”

The Breakers continued the trend on Thursday, putting up 12 runs worth of scoring, as if they needed them all with Anthony Eichhorn on the mound. Over five innings, the right-hander gave up four runs (three were earned), six hits and two walks. He had four strikeouts in gaining the win.

The Breakers have been as hot as the weather, ever since the final days of the regular season. And it hasn’t all been hitting, either. Prior to Thursday’s game, Southampton had not given up an earned run in the playoffs.

“I knew the whole year that they were going to be good because I knew their pitching staff was unbelievable,” said Joe Forney, who delivered a two-run homer for the Tomcats. “They’re really deep. Once their hitting came around, they were playing great.”

Testani said, “Baseball-wise, everything’s been clicking, from pitching, hitting, fielding.”

The Breakers won the first game of the series, 6-2, in Southampton on Wednesday as Robb Scott produced five RBI. He had another one on Thursday.

“Every team in the league here was a good team and anyone could have won it, but we got hot at the right time,” said Breakers coach Rob Cafiero, who was presented with the division championship trophy by Westhampton Aviators general manager Henry Bramwell. The Aviators were last year’s division champs.

Thursday’s series clincher featured a couple of unusual — and controversial — plays. In the fifth inning, James Luppens powered a fly ball that Allen caught before toppling over the right-field fence, with the ball in his glove. One of the white caps on top of the fence fell to the ground about the same time as Allen did. With confusion over whether Allen had dropped the ball or not, Luppens was at first awarded a two-run homer. But after Cafiero argued the call, the umpires conferred and reversed the ruling, calling Luppens out and taking away the two runs in question.

Afterward, Allen said he didn’t drop the ball. “I can say that completely honestly,” he said.

Then, with Southampton batting in the seventh, Allen was involved in another debatable call — this time as a batter. With runners on second and third, Allen struck a soft liner that second baseman Bryan Palermo appeared to nab before it struck the ground. Both runners took off upon contact, and Palermo tossed the ball to the shortstop, Mason, covering second base for a double play. Once again, the umpires met and talked. This time, though, the original call stood.

For the Tomcats, the loss marked the end of an intense season that saw them play 44 games in 61 days.

“It’s fun, man, because for me, especially, I didn’t get to play that much on my school ball team my freshman year [at Xavier], so coming out here and just playing every day was exactly what I needed to get back in my groove,” Forney said. “I enjoyed my time in the Hamptons.”

As for playoff seedings, throw them out — at least as far as this year is concerned.

bliepa@timesreview.com

08/01/12 4:00pm
08/01/2012 4:00 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Tomcats first baseman Jimmy Luppens, a Shoreham-Wading River graduate.

The Riverhead Tomcats dropped Game One of their best-of-three series with the Southampton Breakers 6-2 Wednesday.

The series will decide who wins the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball Division championship.

You can read a recap on the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball Division’s GameChanger page.

07/30/12 10:45pm
07/30/2012 10:45 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead Tomcats first baseman Jimmy Luppens went 4-for-5 in Game 1 Monday.

In unison, the fans lining the field at Shelter Island High School rose to a crescendo, clapping and cheering their Bucks as they began the bottom of the ninth inning Monday.

Trailing by three runs, their season on the line, the Bucks needed a miraculous inning to extend their inaugural season. As much as the players wanted to keep their season alive, so to did the fans who passionately supported them all summer.

As the bottom of the ninth began, the fans could sense the end was near. No one wanted to see it come.

Except for the Riverhead Tomcats.

The No. 4 seed in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball playoffs, the Tomcats knocked off the top-seeded Bucks by sweeping a doubleheader in front of a big crowd on Shelter Island. The Tomcats won the first game 8-6 and clinched the first-round playoff series with a 5-3 victory in Game 2.

After more than six hours of baseball, the Tomcats punched their ticket to the finals of the HCB playoffs, where they’ll face either North Fork or Southampton. The teams split a doubleheader Monday. North Fork, after losing the first game, won with a walk-off home run in extra innings of Game 2.

“We battle,” said Riverhead coach Randy Caden. “These guys don’t give up. They battle. We don’t hit much, but we hit when we’re supposed to.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead Tomcats pitcher Matt Facendo won Game 1 by throwing the final 4 2/3 innings.

The Tomcats, despite some sloppiness early in the first game, outplayed Shelter Island throughout both games. They picked up clutch hits, got strong pitching and withstood the loss of their starting catcher midway through the first game.

Shelter Island finished its season with a 23-19 overall record.

“It was a good run,” said Shelter Island coach Joe Burke. “We didn’t play well in the playoffs. Hopefully we have another shot at it next year and we play a little better.”

The Tomcats (23-19) jumped ahead early in both games. They scored five runs in the first two innings of Game 1 and four runs through the first three innings of Game 2.

“Once you get runs the first inning, they’re always trying to get back at you,” said Riverhead shortstop Alec Sole, who’s often greeted before his at-bats with a chant of “hip-hip! Sole!.” “It’s a lot harder for them.”

Sole had a big day at the plate in both games. In Game 2 he was 3-for-4 with two doubles and a walk. He hit an RBI single in the second inning that made it 3-1 Riverhead.

One of the tricky parts about playing in the league, Sole said, is adjusting to different bats. The wooden bats often break, and with the season near the end, the inventory is shrinking. He began the day using a 33-ounce bat, only to switch to a 32-ounce bat later in the day after his first bat broke. He said he’s still not sure which bat he really prefers.

“I’ve been hitting really good with the 32,” he said. “I’m trying to figure that out.”

Either way, it worked out nicely for Sole. He was 1-for-3 with two runs in the first game and he walked twice.

The Tomcats lost catcher Jordan Parris in the first game when he got hit in the throat with a ball that bounced up off the ground in front of him. Parris was taken by ambulance to the hospital for precautionary reasons.

Caden said that Parris was doing OK.

Eric Weiner, who only joined the team a few weeks ago, came in to play catcher and did a superb job behind the plate. He walked and scored a run in Game 2 and also had a single. Behind the plate, he threw out two runners attempting to steal. The Tomcats will need him going forward, because Monday was set to be Parris’ last day with the team, even before he got injured.

“He’s a good hustler,” Caden said of Weiner. “He made some great plays today.”

Jonathan Cohen started Game 2 for Riverhead and threw six innings to earn the victory. He gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits and struck out four.

Collin McEnery pitched the final three innings, giving up just one unearned run in the ninth.

“They did a phenomenal job,” Sole said. “Couldn’t have asked for more.”

Cohen got into trouble in the fifth inning with the Tomcats leading 4-2. The Bucks loaded the bases with one out. But Cohen struck out Vin Guglietti on three pitches and then got Scott Donaghue to fly out to deep center to end the inning.

Caden said Cohen was at 104 pitches after six innings when he decided to take him out.

“I’ve been going with my gut lately with pitching,” Caden said. “I’ve been lucky going with gut.”

Zack Hopf started Game 1 and threw 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs (three earned). He struck out seven.

“I took out Hopf before he could win the game because he had thrown a lot the last outing,” Caden said. “He was at 98 pitches and these guys are too valuable to hurt.”

Caden called on Matt Facendo to close out the game and he pitched the final 4 2/3 to earn the win. Facendo gave up one run and struck out four.

The Bucks, meanwhile, couldn’t match Riverhead on the mound.

“We did not pitch well,” Burke said. “We gave up 14 runs in two games. We didn’t have the starting pitching and defense.”

joew@timesreview.com

07/29/12 8:00pm
07/29/2012 8:00 PM

GRANT PARPAN FILE PHOTO | The Shelter Island Bucks host the Riverhead Tomcats at Fiske Memorial FIeld when the playoffs begin at 1 p.m. Monday.

The Shelter Island Bucks will host a semifinals doubleheader against the Riverhead Tomcats as the postseason opens in the Hampton Collegiate Baseball Division Monday.

First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Fiske Memorial Field.

The Bucks enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in just their first year. They finished the regular season with a 23-17 record.

Riverhead, the No. 4 seed, went 21-19, just two games back in the tight division. The Tomcats won four of seven games against the Bucks during the regular season.

Monday’s doubleheader is part of a best-of-three series. If the two teams split on Monday they play in Riverhead Tuesday.

The North Fork Ospreys (22-17) host the Southampton Breakers (21-18) in the other semifinals doubleheader Monday. First pitch in that series is set for 4:30 p.m. at Cochran Park in Peconic.

gparpan@timesreview.com

07/29/12 12:01am

GRANT PARPAN FILE PHOTO | Shelter Island pitcher Pat Simone. Riverhead may play the Bucks in the playoffs Monday, but the Tomcats need help.

All the Shelter Island Bucks know for sure is that their first series in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball playoffs will begin Monday.

And even those plans can be altered by Mother Nature.

As for who the Bucks will play, that won’t be determined until Sunday night. What the first-place Bucks do know now is they’ll play either Southampton, Center Moriches or Riverhead.

The No. 2 North Fork Ospreys will play either Southampton or Center Moriches.

Both North Fork and Shelter Island will be home when the best-of-three series’ begin with doubleheaders Monday. If a game three is needed in either series it will be played on the other team’s field Tuesday.

The Hampton Division championship is still slated to be held Wednesday through Friday, with the ACBL semifinal and final scheduled for the weekend.

The playoff scenarios won’t be decided until after North Fork plays Southampton at 5 p.m. Sunday. Center Moriches plays Westhampton at 11 a.m. in the other big game Sunday.

The Riverhead Tomcats need for Southampton to win and Center Moriches to lose.

Here are the scenarios that hinge on Sunday’s results, according to a post on the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball website:

Southampton win, Center Moriches win
#3 Southampton v. #2 North Fork
#4 Center Moriches v. #1 Shelter Island

Southampton win, Center Moriches loss
#3 Southampton v. #2 North Fork
#4 Riverhead v. #1 Shelter Island

Southampton loss, Center Moriches win
#3 Center Moriches v. #2 North Fork
#4 Southampton v. #1 Shelter Island

gparpan@timesreview.com

07/24/12 7:30pm
07/24/2012 7:30 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead Tomcats second baseman Bryan Palermo graduated from Riverhead in 2010.

When Bryan Palermo began looking at colleges to play baseball while in high school at Riverhead, he originally narrowed his choices down to a few schools in Virginia and Maryland. That all changed with a random request from his high school baseball coach, who had him enter an essay contest.

Palermo obliged and wrote the essay about what baseball meant to him. He talked about his desire to compete and the lessons baseball had taught him. His essay won, earning Palermo an opportunity to attend a free baseball camp at Harvard University.

He played at the camp and it just so happened coaches from St. Lawrence University, a liberal arts college just south of the Canadian border upstate, were in attendance. The coaches liked what they saw in Palermo, beginning the recruitment process that quickly reached its conclusion when he made his first visit to St. Lawrence.

“I say it all the time, I couldn’t have made a better choice of where I go to school,” said Palermo, who is working toward becoming a physics teacher.

A 2010 Riverhead graduate, Palermo quickly blossomed on the baseball field at St. Lawrence. As a freshman he became the starting second baseman early in the season and finished the year with a .328 average to earn first-team all-Liberty League honors. He repeated those honors again last spring when he batted .362 as the leadoff hitter for St. Lawrence in his sophomore season. He led the league in runs scored, plate appearances, at-bats and was tied for third in hits as the team posted its best finish in program history.

Based on his superb play and with the recommendation of his college coach, Palermo got an opportunity this summer to play for the Riverhead Tomcats in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. He’s the only Riverhead graduate to play for the Tomcats this season.

“It’s a lot of baseball and it’ll definitely help me improve for next year, so I’m excited about that,” Palermo said.

Palermo has started at second base for the Tomcats this season, playing almost every day in front of family and friends.

Palermo finds himself in a minority when it comes to playing in the Hamptons League. Whereas most players come to the East End from Division I schools, Palermo plays in Division III at St. Lawrence.

It’s been a bump in the level of competition for Palermo, who came into the summer not looking to put any extra pressure on himself.

“I think I knew I was capable of it,” Palermo said. “I’ve played against a bunch of these guys before. I just went out and played hard and that’s all I can do.”

Palermo’s held his own at the plate this summer, posting a .265 average in 28 games heading into action Tuesday.

He said it took some adjusting early on when he was facing better pitching than he’d become accustomed to at college.

“I think I’ve improved and done well with it, so I’m happy about that,” he said.

The biggest difference, Palermo said, is the velocity. With the Tomcats he routinely faces pitchers who can hit 90 miles per hour. In college, he rarely will go up against a pitcher who can reach that speed.

“Playing against this competition will definitely make me a better ballplayer,” Palermo said. “I know my college coach has been following me and he’s excited about how I’m playing.”

Palermo was in high school in 2009 when the Tomcats made their debut in the Hamptons Baseball League. He said it was a dream of his to play college baseball and get an opportunity to compete in the Hamptons League.

Last summer he played with the Center Moriches Battlecats in the FABL College Wood Bat Division. This summer the Battlecats joined the Hamptons Baseball League along with the Shelter Island Bucks.

In high school Palermo played all over the field, from shortstop to pitcher to catcher. He also wrestled during the winter. He was always primarily a middle infielder and by the start of his college career, he found a permanent home at second base.

As the regular season winds down this week for the Tomcats, Palermo said the goal is to lock up a spot in the playoffs, which begin Sunday. Once the season ends he’ll get some time off before heading back to college. The players get two weeks off at the start of the first semester before fall practices begin. After the fall season it’s onto weight-lifting and other training.

“Once second semester comes around, that’s when it really starts to focus on baseball,” he said.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

joew@timesreview.com

07/10/12 9:24pm
07/10/2012 9:24 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead Tomcats left fielder Andrew Gorecki hit a pair of home runs Tuesday against Southampton.

Riverhead Tomcats left fielder Andrew Gorecki couldn’t help but smile as he trotted back to the dugout from first base after coming within inches of hitting his third home run of the game Tuesday against Southampton.

“I can’t do everything,” he said, laughing, after the umpires conferred on the strange play.

Gorecki, a St. Anthony’s graduate who plays at Manhattan College, had just hit a high fly to the opposite field that kept carrying and carrying at Riverhead High School. Southampton left fielder Brenton Allen drifted back with the ball, then collided into the fence as he attempted to make the catch. He tumbled over the short fence and somehow hung on to the ball.

“I saw the ball go in his glove and then I saw him fall over,” Gorecki said afterward. “I didn’t see the ball come out. I was hoping it would come out because then obviously it would have been a home run.”

The Tomcats could have used the two runs after Southampton rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to win 7-5 and snap a three-game winning streak for Riverhead.

The umpires got together to talk about Gorecki’s ball to determine whether it was caught and then what to do with the runner who ended up on second base.

“The rule is if you leave your feet and go out of play, it’s a dead ball and the runners move up,” said Riverhead coach Randy Caden. “He caught the ball, then he fell over the fence and once his body touched the ground, it’s a dead ball.”

There was no confusion on Gorecki’s first two at-bats. He hit a two-run homer to right-center in the second inning for the first runs of the game. Then in the fourth he hit another two-run shot to center that gave Riverhead a 5-4 lead after Southampton had struck for three in previous inning.

The lead nearly stood up for Riverhead until the ninth when a one-out double by Vinny Zarrillo sparked a three-run inning.

The home runs were the first of the summer for Gorecki, who said it’s been a long time since he ever had a multi-homer game.

“Probably since I was little,” he said.

Gorecki is batting .242 in his first season playing in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League. Caden said he wasn’t surprise to see Gorecki show off some power.

“He has a very good swing and if his head’s on the ball he has the opportunity to do that,” he said. “He almost put that third one out.”

A day earlier Gorecki, who’s from Smithtown, said he went to the batting cage and took about 200 swings.

“I just kept working on things, trying to stay inside the ball,” he said. “Little things, little fundamentals.”

Gorecki hit one home run at Manhattan last spring in 128 at-bats. A left-handed hitter who throws righty, Gorecki said that’s how it came natural to him when he first picked up a bat.

His dad asked him if he was sure he was holding it correctly. When Gorecki said yes, his dad told him to go for it, as left-handed hitters are always a commodity in baseball.

It’s worked out well for Gorecki, who was a three-time team MVP in high school.

He benefitted Tuesday from a big game by catcher Seby Zavala batting in front of him. Zavala singled three times in front of Gorecki to set the stage for him. His first single came with two out after Southampton starter Eric Peterson struck out the first two batters.

He then led off the fourth with a single and again in the sixth. He finished 3-for-4 after flying out to right in the eighth.

The Tomcats got some strong relief work against the Breakers before the ninth. Riverhead starter Mike Trionfo gave up four runs in 3 2/3 innings. The combination of Matt Facendo and Will Bacon combined to keep the Breakers scoreless through the eighth.

“We usually don’t lose games like that,” Caden said. “When you have one out in the ninth with your closer and you’re winning by a run, 95 percent of that time you’re going to win that game.”

At 16-9 the Tomcats still remain in first place, just ahead of Shelter Island.

joew@timesreview.com