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Baseball: Tomcats’ defense is delightful

The Riverhead Tomcats are hoping some web gems will lead to another gem of a season.

When it comes to the defense of their first Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League championship, defense is going to be critical for the Tomcats. Judging by the way that defense played Sunday, the Tomcats have a great deal to feel good about.

Exceptional plays in the field by shortstop Noah Centeno, leftfielder Markell Graham and second baseman Brian Craven were among the highlights as the Tomcats rolled to a 7-1 win over the Southampton Breakers in a shining performance on a gray, overcast day.

“Not a lot of errors,” Centeno said after the game at Southampton High School. “We’re all making good plays, getting the outs that we need to make.”

It has been part of a fine start to the season in which the Tomcats have won eight of their first 12 games (and seven of their last 10).

“We’ve played well for the most part,” manager Bill Ianniciello said before the game. “We had one bad day, a doubleheader we lost to Shelter [Island]. We just played poorly that day.”

Father’s Day, though, was another good day for the Tomcats, who built a 6-0 lead before the Breakers (2-11) finally got on the scoreboard when Eric Marasheski led off the bottom of the seventh inning by popping his first home run of the season. Even reliever Matthew Krutsch applauded that one in a show of sportsmanship.

Jason Coules singled in a run before scoring himself on an error for a 2-0 lead in the third.

“It’s [easy] for the road team on a bus ride to fall asleep easily,” Coules said. “I think getting up a couple of runs early was the key to winning this game.”

It was the first of four straight innings in which the Tomcats scored. Over that stretch, Centeno knocked in a run on a groundout, Bryce Wallace collected his league-leading 14th RBI of the season from a single, and Graham and Craven both scored after a double steal on two errors on the same play.

Centeno’s second RBI of the game came on his double to deep centerfield after Graham led off the eighth with a walk.

“That was my favorite part of the game, but also seeing the pitchers come in and just shut the door is a great thing and limiting them to one run,” said Centeno.

Centeno’s day in the field wasn’t bad, either. He made a superb stop to his left of a hard-hit ball by Reed Babin for the third out in the fifth. “That was a great play,” said Coules.

The following inning, Graham charged in hard for a nice sliding catch, robbing Justice Thompson of a hit.

But the play of the day belonged to Craven. Isaiah Winikur poked an arcing fly that looked destined to fall beyond Craven’s reach in shallow centerfield, but the second baseman stretched out for the grab, ending the eighth.

“Our second baseman made the sickest catch you’ve ever seen up close,” said Coules, who had two hits (7-for-14 on the season), along with Centeno and Wallace. “That was awesome.”

Tomcats pitchers surely appreciated the support. Brian Hendry (2-1, 2.57 ERA) gave up three hits in four scoreless innings, with six walks and five strikeouts. Krutsch handled three innings of two-hit ball with four strikeouts. Coletan Reitan and Gabriel Romano each worked an inning to wrap it up.

Centeno said he knew from the Tomcats’ first practice that the team was going to be good.

“I think we’re insane,” he said. “We’re definitely going to go very far. I think we might be able to win the whole thing. We’re going for a two-peat.”

Stellar defense would go a long way toward taking them there.

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Photo caption: Riverhead Tomcats starter Brian Hendry (2-1, 2.57 ERA) gave up three hits in four scoreless innings against the Southampton Breakers. (Credit: Bob Liepa)