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.
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.”