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Baseball: Bobby ‘V’ has the right stuff

Bobby V knows baseball, particularly pitching.

In this case, the “V” stands for Vath (not Valentine, the former major league player and manager). The “V” in Vath could stand for victory because when Vath takes the pitching mound for the Riverhead Tomcats, that’s the usual result.

Tomcats second baseman Robert Gallagher said when Vath receives the starting assignment, “I feel like it’s an automatic win.” Gallagher added, “He consistently shows he’s one of the best pitchers I’ve ever played with.”

Vath and his teammates came through Thursday, holding off the Sag Harbor Whalers, 3-2, in Game 1 of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League semifinals at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton. For seven innings, Vath was an efficiency expert, requiring only 85 pitches (61 strikes) to get his job done.

“You know he’s going to compete and you know he’s going to throw strikes and he’s going to work quickly, so guys like playing behind him,” Tomcats manager Bill Ianniciello said. “He’s gives us a game every time. He’s been money in the bank all summer.”

Vath, a New York Tech sophomore from Coram, is coming off a stellar regular season. The HCBL all star went 4-1 with a league-best 1.44 ERA and a league-high 59 strikeouts against 10 walks in 43 2/3 innings.

“Every year I just try to keep getting better and better,” Vath said. “It definitely feels good that all the hard work I’ve put in is showing on the field.”

After Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio threw out the ceremonial first pitch, it was Vath’s turn to go to work. The righthander scattered seven hits and did not issue a walk, striking out four. Joseph Murphy then handled the final two innings of three-hit relief with four Ks himself.

Vath had a wide assortment of pitches to draw from: a four-seam fastball, two-seamer, curveball, changeup and cutter.

“I think I pitched well,” he said. “A lot of guys made a lot of plays behind me. I couldn’t do it without them. I was working with the pitching coach [Marcelo Perez III on] being more efficient. I had a lot of strikeouts in the last outing, so this time we worked on just hitting spots, getting early outs.”

All the scoring occurred in the first three innings. The Tomcats spotted Vath a 3-0 lead on a Jason Coules sacrifice fly in the first inning (following a leadoff triple by Gallagher) and a pair of runs in the second from a deep drive by Gallagher (3-for-4) after singles by Brian Morrell and Thomas Papadopoulos and an Andrew Hernandez RBI groundout.

Vath hit a speed bump in the third, though, when a Peter Giombetti single and a Matt Woods double preceded Peter Marren’s two-run single.

“We came out there with the first punch,” Vath said. “They responded, and then we responded right back and won the game. We played really well.”

The defending champion Tomcats benefitted from superb defense and a two-hit game by third baseman Louis Antos. Antos robbed designated hitter Brandon Dowd of a hit, not once, but twice with diving stops followed by tremendous throws to first in Dowd’s first two at-bats. “Those are game-changing plays,” said Ianniciello.

Both teams squandered scoring opportunities, leaving a combined 15 runners on base.

The craziest play of the day may have cost the Whalers a run. Lucas Stalman led off the eighth with a hit that skipped by the rightfielder. Stalman, however, missed touching second base as he raced to third and a rare 9-4-5-6 putout was recorded. Two Whalers reached base later in the inning.

The Tomcats went 6-1 against the Whalers during the regular season, outscoring them, 51-19. When those statistics were brought up, Ianniciello said: “It doesn’t matter. They’re a very good team, a well-coached, good team. Every game is a new game.”

The Tomcats can seal the series if they win the second game Friday at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor. Should a third game be required, it will be played Saturday in Calverton.

How big is it taking Game 1 of a short series?

“It’s always good to win the first game, but you still have to win another one,” Ianniciello said. “It doesn’t mean anything until you win another one. It’s a battle. It will be a battle tomorrow.”

Photo caption: Riverhead ace Bobby Vath needed only 85 pitches over seven innings in Game 1 of the semifinal series against Sag Harbor. (Credit: Bob Liepa)

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