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Baseball: Riverhead’s playoff window is closing

So, that’s what playing baseball in a hurricane is like.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a hurricane, but the wind was whipping something nasty Thursday. On a day when winds in Middle Island ranged from 15-25 mph, with some powerful gusts up to 35 mph, according to The Weather Channel, one might wonder if Riverhead’s playoff hopes are about to be gone with the wind.

Crunch time has arrived and Riverhead is up against it. With its 10-5 loss at Longwood Friday, Riverhead (5-7, 5-6 Suffolk County League I) needs four wins from its remaining six games — three each against Sachem East and Brentwood — in order to reach the postseason. Entering Thursday, Sachem East was 9-3, 9-2, and Brentwood was 1-10, 1-10.

Riverhead coach Rob Maccone wasn’t kidding when he said his team’s 5-1 start to the season was vital for its playoff chances. Every game, every win is important.

“It’s critical that we take at least one from Sachem,” Riverhead third baseman Justin Mason said. “Without that, we’re nowhere near the playoffs, but we need to get at least one. We can’t put our heads down. If we keep fighting we can definitely take one.”

But Riverhead’s sixth straight loss Thursday didn’t do the Blue Waves any favors. For that matter, they didn’t do themselves any favors with fielding that produced five errors.

“Our fielding is kind of really what gave it away,” said Mason, the leadoff hitter who had two hits, a walk and singled in a run. “I mean, we had a lot of errors. All the errors kind of killed us.”

Riverhead fell behind, 6-0, by the third inning, yet managed to pull within 6-5 with a five-run fourth. Luke Pilon, Patrick Rowland and Mason had RBI singles and Terrence LeGrady drew a bases-loaded walk during the rally. But the only hit Riverhead managed after that was Jackson Loper’s single to lead off the seventh.

“We haven’t played a good seven innings of baseball in a while,” Mason said. “Ever since [sweeping three games from Central Islip in early April], we kind of had our heads high and then started playing better teams and we got punched in the face.”

The wind did crazy things with fly balls and can even be blamed for a scary collision in shallow rightfield in the fourth when Longwood’s Brendan Mair popped up a ball high into the wind currents. Second baseman Connor Levasseur tracked back while rightfielder Mike Gaffney raced forward. Both players and the ball met at the same time. The ball popped loose and Levasseur remained motionless, lying face down.

Riverhead rightfielder Mike Gaffney (closest to the camera) and second baseman Connor Levasseur collide while tracking a fly ball in the fourth inning. Levasseur left the game with a bloodied lip. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

After a few moments, Levasseur rose to his feet and walked to the dugout. He was replaced by Brady Hubbard.

“Connor is OK,” Maccone said after the game. “His lip was bleeding. That’s the only reason why he had to come out. His face feels fine. Everything’s fine, though, and he’ll be back on Monday.”

Maccone said when Levasseur backpedaled into Gaffney, “his head jolted and he lost sight of the ball and it hit him in the mouth.”

LeGrady said, “I think on the hit our rightfielder 100 percent would have had it and then it was coming in more because of the wind and both then thought they had it.”

Playing in wind like that isn’t fun.

“Every two or three minutes or so the wind would just come in and we’d actually have to like maybe have our pitcher stop for a second because he couldn’t even throw the ball,” said LeGrady.

Asked how much of a factor the wind was, Maccone replied: “It’s not a factor. You can’t say it’s a factor. It’s both ways. They made plays, we didn’t.”

Longwood (10-4, 10-4), winner of seven in a row, had two hits and an RBI from Louis Kaleb and a two-run single by Preston Gerena on a day when the Lions honored their 14 seniors in a pregame ceremony.

Looking at the work Riverhead has ahead of it, Maccone noted that Sachem East took two of three games from William Floyd and two of three from Longwood. “So it’s a hard task,” he said.

What is Riverhead’s mindset heading down the homestretch?

“Win at all costs,” LeGrady said. “I mean, whether you got to throw a bunt, whether you got to lean into a pitch, we got to win at all costs, you know what I mean?”