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Baseball: Micheli’s HR sends Tomcats to third straight championship series

For a while now it seemed as if the path to the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League championship was going to have to run through Southampton. And so it is.

For their part, the Riverhead Tomcats must appreciate the opportunity a third straight trip to the championship series affords them. At the same time, they are the unquestioned underdogs against the Breakers in a best-of-three series that begins Wednesday at Southampton High School.

In the regular season, the Tomcats went 1-5 against the Breakers and were outscored, 40-20. Southampton, which held first place from start to finish of the 30-game regular season, going 18-12, is seeking its first league title in seven years. The Breakers showed their determination in an 11-inning, 9-4 triumph over the Sag Harbor Whalers Sunday, a result that cemented their place in the championship series. They scored five runs in the 11th to win it.

The Tomcats, meanwhile, who finished the regular season fourth among the HCBL’s six teams with a 14-15-1 record, eked out a 1-0 victory over the visiting Westhampton Aviators Sunday in Game 2 of their semifinal series to advance. Ryan Micheli’s fourth-inning home run was the difference.

Coleton Reitan (10 strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings of relief), the winning pitcher in a wild-card win over the North Fork Ospreys, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to wrap it up. Starter Chuck Sanzio allowed one hit in 4 2/3 scoreless innings.

The wild-card win over the Ospreys was a wild one. Trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Tomcats rallied for three runs and a 5-4 win. Micheli had the walk-off hit in that one, too.

No wonder Tomcats general manager Patti Moore-White has taken to calling her club the “Dramacats.”

The Tomcats are the third team in league history to reach the championship series in three straight seasons. The Ospreys (2009-11) and the Aviators (2015-17) were the other teams to accomplish the feat.

The Tomcats are seeking their second league title, the first coming in 2018. In 2019, Westhampton swept the Tomcats in two games, becoming the first HCBL team to win four titles. Last season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Southampton is making its third appearance in the championship series, having won in its previous two in 2012 and 2014.

The Tomcats have been led offensively by former Shoreham-Wading River High School star Brian Morrell. Morrell, a junior outfielder at St. John’s University, was the league’s batting champion this year with a .393 average (33-for-84). He also drove in 14 runs, scored 15 runs, homered and walked 11 times. The Tomcats have two other .300-plus hitters in Micheli (.360) and Cameron Love (.306), who stole 21 bases.

The Breakers have big bats, too. Will Gale (.341) had the league’s second-leading batting average in addition to scoring 27 runs and stealing 27 bases. Beau Root (.333) and Parker Stinson (.325, five homers, 25 RBIs) bring good numbers as well. Marquez Mason’s five homers tied him for the league lead and his 25 RBIs tied him for second with three others, including teammates Tyler Robinson and Stinson.

As a team, Southampton had a .265 batting average, 22 homers and 162 RBIs, all of which were favorable compared to Riverhead’s .248, 12 homers and 124 RBIs.

In terms of pitching, the Tomcats’ Cameron Mayer posted a league-best 1.24 ERA with 43 strikeouts (second-best in the league) and only three walks. He went 4-0. Reitan (2-1, 4.37 ERA) tied for fourth with 37 strikeouts.

Southampton’s Matt Jachec (4-0) tied for third with a 2.19 ERA.

On the managerial front, both teams are skippered by veterans, Bill Ianniciello of the Tomcats and Rob Cafiero of the Breakers.

Game 2 is set for today at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton. The teams will return to Southampton Friday if a third game is required.