Soaring Ospreys clinch share of first

Riverhead center fielder Eric Romano made this catch of a Dan Muscatello fly ball in the eighth inning of the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader while shortstop Jeff Welsh tried to stay out of his way.

Anyone anticipating players uncorking bottles of champagne and spraying each other with them would have been disappointed. No, there was no celebratory pileup of players near the pitcher’s mound or even a bucket of water dumped over the manager’s head.

This was all rather anticlimactic, really, but the North Fork Ospreys did clinch at least a share of first place in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League’s Hampton Division all the same, and that was something.

“It’s kind of hard to get excited because we’ve been in first so long,” said Ospreys Manager Shawn Epidendio.

With the Ospreys sitting by themselves in first place since early in the season, it might have seemed a foregone conclusion that they would finish in the top spot. They assured themselves of that with their 4-1 victory over the Riverhead Tomcats in the second game of a doubleheader on Tuesday night at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. The Tomcats won the first game, 2-1.

With their sparkling 24-9 record, the Ospreys can assure themselves of sole possession of the top spot with their next win. Should they take four of their remaining eight regular-season games, which shouldn’t be a problem given their past performance, they would give themselves the best record in the league and be rewarded with the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

“We all had the expectation to win,” Ospreys second baseman Dan Muscatello said. “We’re out here for a reason. We’re out here to play and win. Everybody is playing for the team, not themselves.”

Last season the Ospreys clinched first place in their final regular-season game. Following a 4-10 start to the 2009 season, the team went 25-15 in the regular season before going on to lose to the Westhampton Aviators in the division finals.

This year, though, the Ospreys have been a model of consistency. They haven’t had any major stumbling blocks, and haven’t lost more than two straight games during any stretch.

“We’ve got a good ball club here, a lot of talent, and everyone really works hard,” said Ospreys first baseman Eric Williams.

In Tuesday’s nightcap, the Ospreys used a three-run rally in the fourth inning to surge ahead, 4-1. All three hits by the Ospreys that inning were big. Robert Kelly led off with a double. Later, Muscatello lined a run-scoring single and Nick Lingvay delivered a two-run single that dribbled through the infield.

Williams had stroked a two-out single, scoring Muscatello from third base to open the scoring in the third. Muscatello had led off by muscling a single through the middle.

Nathan Pittman’s speed enabled the Tomcats (16-18) to draw even in the fourth. The fleet-footed Pittman doubled, and then tagged to third on a fly ball. Eric Schlitter’s sacrifice fly allowed him to score, tying it at 1-1.

Kelly (1-0) picked up the win, allowing one hit and striking out five over four innings.

The Ospreys were forced to wait for their title-clinching win as the Tomcats took the first game of the twinbill. A combined one-hitter by Dom Macaluso and Michael Zaccardo brought the Tomcats the one-run victory in the first game. The Ospreys’ only hit was a home run by Billy Ferriter, who smoked the first pitch thrown by Macaluso over right field for a 1-0 lead. It was his first homer of the season.

The game swung Riverhead’s way in the sixth. Jeff Welsh turned on an inside pitch for a sharply struck single off the left-field fence. One out later, Isaac Rodriguez delivered a well-driven double that bounced to the center-field fence, snapping a 1-1 tie.

The game remained fairly uneventful after Ferriter’s homer until the fifth when the Tomcats evened things at a run apiece. Eric Romano reached base on a fielding error, was singled over to third base on a pinch-hit single by Matt Fleishman, and then raced home on a slow dribbler of a groundout by Tyler Brant.

Macaluso (3-1) went five innings, striking out four. Aside from Ferriter, the only other base runners Macaluso allowed were the result of two walks and a dropped third strike.

Zaccardo, filling the closer role for the Tomcats, took over from Macaluso. He retired all six batters he faced for his third save. One of those outs came on a nice sprawling catch by the center fielder, Romano, as he raced in on a liner hit by Williams for the second out in the ninth.

Chuck Fontana (2-3) was the hard-luck losing pitcher. He went the distance, giving up four hits and one earned run, striking out six.

Dependable pitching and depth have been cornerstones of the Ospreys’ success.

“I think what’s important about our team is we just come out here and have fun,” Williams said. “We don’t have to worry about having a bad day. You come out to the park and you don’t have your best stuff one day, someone else on the team is going to pick you up. That’s how we ran all season.”

Not to be forgotten, either, is the team’s winning mentality.

“They play the game hard. That’s all I can ask for,” Epidendio said. “They want to win. Flat out, the whole group does not like to lose.”

They don’t do it too often.