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Baseball: Lazar comes through with walk-off hit for Tomcats

Riverhead pitcher Benjamin Wanger 070716

One may have started wondering if baseball’s dog days of summer had arrived in Riverhead. A little early for that, isn’t it? After all, it’s not even the middle of July yet.

The Riverhead Tomcats would agree.

It was those same Tomcats who stormed out to a 9-0-1 start to the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League season. Then, they lost nine straight, just like that.

That’s baseball, as they say.

With Monday night’s all-star game approaching, it appears as if the Tomcats may be back on the right track. After watching the first-place Westhampton Aviators strand 14 runners, the plucky Tomcats scratched out a 3-2 triumph on Anthony Lazar’s walk-off single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton. It was their fourth win in five games and their first walk-off hit of the season, according to manager Alex Nikolic.

The first walk-off hit in Lazar’s life came on a 3-and-2 offering from hard-throwing reliever Jordan McCrum. Two runners were on base at the time. Pinch hitter Stephen Haring led off with squibbed single and continued onto second base when McCrum threw the ball past first base. One out later, another pinch hitter, Asher Lee-Tyson, came through with a walk. Following an infield-fly rule call, Lazar delivered with a well-struck blow to leftfield. Haring took off and rounded third base hard. The throw took one bounce over the catcher’s glove and Haring was in, giving the Tomcats (13-10-1) their first and only lead of the game.

If the dog days of summer had not arrived yet, the heat and humidity surely were present Thursday. Despite a few raindrops early on, with thunder grumbling and dark, ominous clouds hanging overhead, weather wasn’t a problem beyond the comfort factor. What was more of a problem for the Aviators (18-8-1) was their failure to capitalize on opportunities. They hit 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

In a game that saw pitchers from both teams combine for 22 strikeouts, the Aviators used their legs in the fifth inning to do what their bats couldn’t up to that point: score a run. Dan Franchi ran out an infield single, using his speed to get on base. Following a walk and a popup, Franchi stole third base and then scored on an error.

Franchi, who is hitting .365, drove in the second run with a single in the eighth, plating Jack Massa. Massa, the former Shoreham-Wading River High School standout, had two singles and two walks.

But two runs weren’t enough for the Aviators.

The Tomcats evened things in their half of the eighth. Lazar and Mike Flynn provided back-to-back singles before executing a double steal. One run came home on a Gavin Garay groundout and the second on Joe Flynn’s crack to rightfield.

Benjamin Wanger, the fourth and final pitcher the Tomcats used, picked up the win. He pitched two scoreless innings with two strikeouts, allowing one hit.

Aviators second baseman Aaron Ping was denied in his efforts to set new club single-season records. He remains one home run and one RBI away from separating himself from Kevin Heller. The two share Westhampton’s marks of 11 homers and 30 RBIs. Heller accomplished that in 2011.

Ping, who leads the league in both categories, also ranks second with a .350 batting average after going 0-for-4.

That’s not to say Ping didn’t have his chances. With runners at the corners in the first, he bounced into a fielder’s choice for the third out. He flied to right in the third. With two runners on in the seventh, and history beckoning, he grounded out to the pitcher. In the ninth he led off by striking out on three pitches.

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Photo caption: Riverhead reliever Benjamin Wanger pitched two scoreless innings with two strikeouts for the win over Westhampton. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)