No question about it, the Westhampton Aviators are armed and dangerous. The Riverhead Tomcats are dangerous, too, but in their case, when it comes to arms — pitching arms — there’s a question mark. At least for now.
On Saturday the defending Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League champion Tomcats took on the first-place Aviators, who have to be considered the biggest threat to Riverhead’s hopes for a repeat. Entering the game at Aviator Field, the teams were separated by only three games. Westhampton’s 13-7 win, however, should come with a huge asterisk next to that final score. The Tomcats, desperately short on pitching arms, used five field players to handle all of their pitching.
“It wasn’t like we were throwing the game away, but we’re short on arms and we made do with it,” Tomcats third baseman Louis Antos said. “I think we stuck in the game pretty well throughout the nine innings.”
After falling behind, 6-0, by the fifth inning, the second-place Tomcats (12-7-1) pulled within 6-5 in the seventh before the Aviators (16-6-1) erupted for seven runs over the final two innings.
Westhampton is 7-2-1 over its past 10 games and its potent offense has rung up 59 runs over the past five games. The Aviators are 3-0-1 against the Tomcats.
“They’re definitely the hardest team we’ve played this year,” Tomcats second baseman Brian Craven said. “They swing it and they have good arms and it’s pretty clear that they’re the ones that are going to be up there — hopefully with us — the whole way.”
Could we see a Tomcats-Aviators championship series in the near future?
Not so fast, said Tomcats manager Bill Ianniciello.
“We’re a long way off from thinking about championship,” he said. “We’re just trying to come out and compete day to day. My guys have been doing a great job with that. I can’t speak highly enough about the team and everybody doing everything they’ve been asked to do and doing things they don’t normally do, so it’s been a great group for all of that.”
To help the Tomcats get through the day, Noah Centeno (0-1) handled the first two innings before Thomas Papadopoulos pitched the next three. After that, Robert Gallagher, Bryce Willits and Isaiah Payton tossed an inning each.
They faced a fearsome Aviators lineup that produced home runs by Daniel Franchi (3-for-4, four runs, two RBIs, walk, stolen base), Chaney Dodge (2-for-5, five RBIs, stolen base) and Jack Harnisch (three RBIs), the son of former major league pitcher Pete Harnisch.
“We learned a lot about them when we played them in a doubleheader at Baseball Heaven last week or two weeks ago, so we knew what they had coming in here,” Tomcats catcher Jarred Greene said. “We knew it was going to be dogfight.”
As if that wasn’t enough, the Tomcats had to face hard-throwing pitcher Harrison Cohen (3-0, 1.59 ERA), who maxed out at 93 mph before being pulled after picking up his seventh, eighth and ninth strikeouts of the game in the sixth. He gave up seven hits and no walks.
One of those hits was a three-run bomb that Greene crushed high and far over the rightfield fence in the sixth for his first homer in only his fourth game with the club. Greene delivered a sacrifice fly to deep centerfield in the eighth for his fourth RBI.
Another Tomcat who had a big day was Antos. He went a perfect 4-for-4, including an RBI double. Defensively, Antos made a great catch of a line drive hit by Bailey Peterson and fired a throw to Craven at second to catch a runner off the base for a double play.
Markell Graham and Andrew Hernandez brought the Tomcats two hits apiece. Both of Hernandez’s hits were doubles.
Former Shoreham-Wading River High School standout Ryan Mullahey, who had been training with the Tomcats while rehabbing an arm injury, made his debut with the club. He started at first base and went 0-for-4, striking out three times.
Five errors didn’t help the Tomcats’ cause.
Speaking of the Aviators, Antos said: “They’re great hitters. They got good guys on the mound. They play solid ‘D’, so that’s why they’re in first, but I think we’re right up there with them.”
“I think we got a great group of guys here,” he continued. “It would be nice if everybody was healthy, but we’re making do, and I think we’re going to go far in this league.”
Some fresh pitching arms would help.
Photo caption: Jarred Greene (four RBIs) trots toward home plate after slugging a three-run homer for Riverhead’s first runs in the sixth inning. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)