Loose Caboose comes up big in a tight spot

Loose Caboose pitcher Bernie Hoyt delivered a pitch during Monday evening’s game against the T-Shirt Guys.

On the same night that the Riverhead Men’s Softball League regular season came to an end, the playoffs essentially started.

High drama was on the schedule Monday night, along with a regular-season-ending doubleheader that carried immense playoff implications for the three teams involved. One of those teams, Loose Caboose, rose to the occasion and seized its opportunity to snatch the sixth and final spot in the league’s postseason tournament.

Because of the loss of young players who had to return to college, R&K Precision Autoworks, which had been playoff-bound, was forced to drop out of the league and forfeit its remaining games. That assured Modell’s/Riverhead Building Supply of fifth place and left one final playoff berth open for the taking among the league’s bottom three clubs — DSPBA Posse, Loose Caboose and the T-Shirt Guys.

All three of those teams were involved in Monday’s doubleheader at Stotzky Memorial Park. Loose Caboose, with its 11-8 defeat of the T-Shirt Guys in the opener, kept intact the team’s admirable record of having never failed to qualify for the playoffs. In the second game, the T-Shirt Guys edged DSPBA Posse, 21-20. Both of those teams finished the season with 5-19 records.

The T-Shirt Guys would have needed to defeat both Loose Caboose and DSPBA Posse in order to punch their playoff ticket. DSPBA Posse’s playoff path would have required a win by the T-Shirt Guys over Loose Caboose, and then a DSPBA Posse win in the final game. But Loose Caboose’s triumph made all the other scenarios academic and set up Loose Caboose with a game against Wedel Signs last night when the double-elimination tournament was scheduled to start.

“We didn’t want to go down,” Loose Caboose catcher Earl Gray said. “Our team’s got a lot of heart, a lot of heart, a lot of good players. When the whole team is together, we can beat anybody.”

Loose Caboose (6-18) had things together on Monday, beating a team that it had lost to in their two previous meetings. Leading Loose Caboose’s 20-hit attack was George Brown and Gray with three runs batted in each, and pitcher Bernie Hoyt, who had three hits to help his cause. Brown delivered a solo homer.

Loose Caboose never trailed after the first inning and had a response for when the T-Shirt Guys pulled even at 6-6 in the fifth. In the bottom of the fifth, Loose Caboose surged in front for good on the strength of a four-run rally aided by two doubles that outfielders either couldn’t pull in or misjudged. Hoyt, Johnson and Fred Ligon singled in runs, and Gray brought in the fourth with a sacrifice fly for a 10-6 lead.

“Loose Caboose has always been in the playoffs, so it was a fight with our backs against the wall,” Loose Caboose left fielder Fred Miles said. “We had to come out fighting.”

The play of the game came when the T-Shirt Guys were at bat in the sixth. With Joseph Rizzo on second base, Steve De Simone shot a single to left field. Rizzo tried to score on the hit, but was called out after Miles’ accurate throw was caught by Gray, who made the tag on a close play at the plate. Gray said the throw was “perfect.”

The T-Shirt Guys were displeased by the umpire’s call, but it stood.

“I had seen the guy rounding third and I knew I was close to the ball and I knew I was going home with it,” Miles said. “I knew I could get the ball home before he got there with the arm that I have. I knew that it was going to be close, but I prevailed, so it made me feel good out there.”

Hoyt said: “That buried them at that point, I thought. It’s hard to come back from that.”

The T-Shirt Guys weren’t able to prevail despite two-run homers by John Hartill and Dan Dunn, and three hits by Jerry Halpin.

In the seventh, the T-Shirt Guys pulled back two runs, but it wasn’t enough. Their playoff hopes had been doused.

“It felt good,” Miles said of watching the final out recorded. “I knew I had a victory.”

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