The 2022 Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League season picked up right where the 2021 season ended — on the same Veterans Memorial Park field in Calverton where league president Sandi Kruel presented the championship trophy to the Southampton Breakers last August.
Southampton’s third league championship had come at the expense of the Riverhead Tomcats, the HCBL’s surprise team last year. The Tomcats finished the regular season in fourth place and entered the playoffs with a six-game losing streak, but that didn’t prevent them from reaching their third straight league championship series. It was at that stage, though, where Southampton took down the Tomcats, 9-2 and 6-0, to sweep the series.
And so, the new season began in similar fashion Friday evening. Southampton seems to have the Tomcats’ number, defeating the Riverhead club for the eighth time in the last nine meetings between the teams. This time the score was 6-3.
A 3-3 game turned in the eighth inning when a sky-high popup by Nate Carminucci with the bases loaded fell untouched inside the first-base line, allowing Nathan Brasher to cross home plate. Brasher had led off with a broken-bat single, one of his three hits.
Two insurance runs followed in the ninth. A.J. Hansen led off with a triple and was driven in by Eric Genther. Brasher then singled off the shortstop’s glove and Freddy Forgione was hit in the back by a pitch to load the bases for Beau Root, who walked in a run, making it 6-3.
The seven-team league opened its 14th season on a beautiful, sunny day with a delightful breeze and a 77-degree game-time temperature. Sgt. Jonathan Keller Field at Veterans Memorial Park was decorated for the occasion with red, white and blue bunting hanging on fences. Boy Scouts and members of the Riverhead Police Department were part of the pregame ceremony. Former Shoreham-Wading River High School and ex-Tomcats star player Jimmy Luppens, now with the Riverhead Police Department, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to New York Mets scout Larry Izzo.
The Tomcats’ out-of-state players joined the team Tuesday, arriving from places like Kentucky, Tennessee, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, said general manager Patti Moore-White. Joe Gisonda and Jared Restmeyer are the only two returning Tomcats from last season. The Tomcats also have a new head coach, Lou Orologio, whose son, Ty, played centerfield. The roster also includes pitcher Aidan Crowley of Shoreham and infielder Ethan Aube of Riverhead, a former Tomcats batboy. Neither of those two played Friday.
The HCBL season, which typically runs 40 games, has been reduced to 36 games in the interest of not taxing pitching arms, said Moore-White.
Southampton built a 3-0 lead by the second inning. Brasher belted a two-out RBI single under pitcher Cole Hansen’s glove in the first. Then, in the second, Luke Fisher’s sacrifice fly brought home a run and an error allowed Andrew Smith to score. Because of three Riverhead errors in the first two innings, two of those runs were unearned.
The Tomcats evened things up in the fourth through Nicholas Papageorge’s RBI double and Gisonda’s ground ball through the middle for a two-run hit.
Perhaps the brightest aspect of the game for the Tomcats was the relief pitching of Will Tobin, who was dominant with eight strikeouts, allowing only one hit in three scoreless innings. Hansen, Tobin, Grant Biederman and Dylan Zucker totaled 15 strikeouts.
Jacob Pedersen picked up the win, working the final three scoreless innings during which he fanned six, walked one and did not concede a hit.