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Baseball: Tomcats swept in championship series

The Southampton Breakers completed the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League season in a familiar spot — on top.

Not even the best efforts of the Riverhead Tomcats could prevent that Friday, when the Breakers took Game 2, 6-0, to sweep the championship series for their third league title. So, it was hardly a surprise to see league president Sandi Kruel handing them the championship trophy at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton.

“I know a bunch of [the Breakers] coming up through the systems with them, a bunch of good guys, and when it comes down to it, they just got a bunch of good hitters, in my opinion,” Tomcats rightfielder Ryan Micheli said. “They got some solid arms, but offensively, they’re really above most of the teams in the league, especially with guys in scoring position; they always seem to get their guys in somehow.”

That being said, the Tomcats have been the surprise team of the six-team league this year, having finished the regular season in fourth place with a six-game losing streak before turning on a magical postseason run. Opponents have learned not to underestimate the Cardiac Cats, who have a knack for executing comebacks and walk-off wins.

Not this time, though.

Two days after blowing out the Tomcats, 9-1, in Southampton, the Breakers broke Friday’s game open in the ninth inning, rallying for four runs and a 6-0 lead.

Up to that point, though, the Tomcats had kept things close, thanks in part to starter Cole Zaffiro’s pitching.

Thomas Eitniear, who reached base in the third on catcher’s interference, was doubled home by series MVP Will Gale for a 1-0 lead.

The Breakers, who put out the same lineup as in Game 1 with the exception of the pitcher, didn’t get their second hit of the game until the lefthanded-hitting Parker Stinson connected on a 1-and-1 pitch for a home run.

Coleton Reitan pitches in relief. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Zaffiro retired the next two batters and had a 2-and-0 count against David Franchi before being pulled with his pitch count at 99. Zaffiro, who received applause as he exited the field, was charged with one run to go with seven strikeouts and four walks.

“Cole did great for us the entire year,” said Micheli, who went 3-for-4. “If we ever needed a guy out of the pen or for a start he was there. He’s one of the reasons we’re here.”

Zaffiro said he was excited to get the assignment. “I pitched against them last week,” he said. “I thought I knew their lineup pretty well. I think that’s the reason I had some success today.”

Meanwhile, the Breakers were riding a tremendous outing from their starter, Robert Lucano. He threw eight scoreless innings, allowing six hits and no walks, with six strikeouts.

Four of Southampton’s seven hits were in the ninth. They all came in succession: an Andrew Primm single, a Marco Ali RBI double off the centerfield fence, a Thomas Eitniear single and Gale’s second RBI double of the game. Shortly after that, Beau Root’s sacrifice fly and Tyler Robinson’s bases-loaded walk made it 6-0. The Breakers sent 10 batters to the plate that inning.

That’s the sort of hitting that made the Breakers champions.

“Mostly I’m kind of speechless,” Gale said afterward.

His bat did plenty of talking. Gale went 4-for-10, with four RBIs and two stolen bases in the two-game series.

“I think, for starters, our pitching is very dominant,” he said. “And, on top of that, our defense is also very good. And so, you know, bats show up and it’s hard to beat us.”

The Tomcats, making their third straight appearance in the championship series, were seeking a second league crown to go with the one they earned in 2018. But the Breakers have gotten the better of them this summer, winning seven of the eight games between the teams.

It was the final HCBL game for Tomcats coach Bill Ianniciello, who has been in the league since 2012, but is leaving to focus his efforts as Adelphi University’s coach.

“I love Bill,” Zaffiro said. “He’s a great coach, a great guy. I love playing for him. He loves the game, very competitive, and I love that about him.”

Ianniciello praised his players for the way they handled themselves this season.

“It was a great character team, just the makeup of the guys,” he said. “They just they went about their stuff the right way. They stayed together, never got down, never got demoralized. It’s just fun to watch guys come out and go about their business in a professional” way.

Michelli said, “It’s definitely been a summer to remember.”

Especially for the Breakers.

Gale said, “Things ended up working out for us.”

As they seem to have all summer long.