The critical plays didn’t go the Riverhead Tomcats’ way on a day they needed to win in order to play another day.
The Westhampton Aviators finished the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League regular season in first place for a reason. Just leave the door open a crack for the Aviators and they will burst through it.
That was the case Sunday when, with the Tomcats nursing a 1-0 lead, the first two Westhampton batters made out in the seventh inning. Things began to unravel from there for the Tomcats, though. A Pat Lagravinese grounder was booted and ruled a hit. Then Roman Baisa (3-for-5) delivered a well-struck double past diving first baseman Gavin Garay. Both runners came home when Dan Franchi chopped a bad-hopper off shortstop Asher Lee-Tyson’s glove for a 2-1 lead at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton.
The score stood as the Aviators swept the semifinal series in two games. They will host the Montauk Mustangs, who swept the North Fork Ospreys in two games, in Game 1 of the best-of-three finals on Tuesday. The Aviators, who won league titles in 2009 and 2011, are trying to become the first HCBL club to claim three championships.
Both starting pitchers, Nick Arnold of the Aviators and Nick Morena of the Tomcats, turned in quality performances.
Arnold allowed five hits in his 5 2/3 innings, as well as the Tomcats’ only run. That came in the sixth, following a walk by Lee-Tyson and singles to rightfield by Kiambu Fentress and Joe Flynn (3-for-4). The Aviators averted further damage, however, when Fentress was picked off third base for the third out.
Donovan Armas picked up the win in 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out three and allowing three hits.
Morena was relieved by Kyle Mallwitz after 6 2/3 innings, during which he surrendered seven hits, striking out seven and walking three.
Aviators first baseman Ross Puskarich was ejected from the game in the fourth for having words after striking out.
The Tomcats posed a threat in the ninth when Flynn and Thomas Asbaty came through with sharp, one-out singles. Armas, however, buckled down, striking out Anthony Lazar and getting Luke DeVenney to hit into a game-ending fielder’s choice.
The Tomcats, who went 3-4 against the Aviators during the regular season, played their first playoff game in four years Saturday in Game 1 in Westhampton. The Aviators ran out to a 4-0 lead by the fifth inning and won, 5-1, as Reiss Knehr worked a solid seven innings at Aviator Field. Knehr was touched for five hits and one run, striking out seven and walking one. He benefitted from a home run by Franchi, who had two RBIs as did Aaron Ping. Baisa went 3-for-4 and scored three runs.
The Tomcats’ sole run came on a homer by Asbaty in the sixth. Tim DeGraw and Lazar had two hits each for the Tomcats.
Frank Valentino started for the Tomcats, giving up four runs and five hits over seven innings. He recorded eight strikeouts against two walks.
Photo caption: Riverhead pitcher Nick Morena gave up seven hits and two unearned runs in 6 2/3 innings. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)