OSPREYS 7, AVIATORS 5
Alex Perez is known as a slick-fielding shortstop with a good arm, whose quick hands make him a good gap hitter. But a home-run hitter?
Well, that may be changing. Perez socked not one, but two home runs for the North Fork Ospreys on Saturday night, giving him three for the current Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League season. And this from a player who started all 55 games he played in for Virginia Tech this past college season, yet did not manage one home run.
“It’s the first time I have ever done it,” Perez said after his two-homer game helped the Ospreys top the Westhampton Aviators, 7-5, at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. “I try to hit the ball in the gap and see what happens.”
All three of Perez’s homers have come against the Aviators. On Saturday, he cleared the right-center-field fence with a two-run blast in the second inning and he led off the fourth with a delivery to left-center.
“It kind of came out of nowhere, you know,” Ospreys left fielder Dillon Bryant said of Perez’s two homers. “He’s a good hitter and everything, but he hasn’t really shown much pop, but I give him props. That’s a very tough thing to do.”
Asked about the recent power surge, Perez alluded to the Ospreys’ home field being a hitter’s park.
Neither of Perez’s two home runs was a no-doubter. On the first one, he worked the count before getting a 2-1 pitch to drive.
“I didn’t think I hit it out,” he said. “I just thought I hit it in the gap.”
On the second homer, he took an 0-2 changeup deep, but wasn’t sure if it would be deep enough.
“The dimensions are a little small, so I got a little lucky on that one,” he said. “That completely surprised me. I was rounding second like, ‘Where’s this ball?’ ”
When he realized it went over the fence, he couldn’t help but smile.
Although Perez isn’t known for his long-ball prowess, he is a highly regarded player. Ospreys coach Bill Ianniciello called him an “outstanding shortstop.”
In his recent freshman season at Virginia Tech, Perez posted a .246 batting average with 27 runs batted in. On the defensive side, he had a .979 fielding percentage with six errors. He tied the school record for the most assists in a game, 10.
For the Ospreys, Perez has not made an error in 56 chances (11 putouts, 45 assists). He is hitting .209 with six RBI, but Ianniciello said those offensive numbers are misleading.
“He’s hit into a lot of hard outs,” Ianniciello said. “His average doesn’t reflect how well he’s hitting, but his average will come along.”
Bryant supplied the Hampton Division-leading Ospreys (9-4) with a pair of doubles and two stolen bases. Vinny Citro singled twice, including one for an RBI.
The Ospreys surged to a 5-0 lead thanks to Perez’s shot in the fourth and looked to be coasting behind the steady pitching of Vaughn Hayward (2-0). The right-hander did not concede a hit until Chad Livingston led off the fifth by darting a single past the sprawling shortstop, Perez.
Hayward gave up three runs and three hits over six innings. He walked two and struck out six.
The Aviators (6-10) brought themselves back into the game thanks to a three-run sixth. Sam Frost knocked a run-scoring single down the right-field line, Matt Kriss knocked in a run on a fielder’s choice (in which Ospreys third baseman Darrin Standish made a nice play to knock the ball down before throwing to second for the out) and Kriss scored on a wild pitch.
It wasn’t Perez’s home runs that seemed to irk Aviators coach James Lally so much as a pair of two-out walks that Westhampton issued in the eighth. They set up what looked to be insurance runs at the time in the form of run-scoring singles by Standish and Citro, making the score 7-3.
“You can’t walk guys with two outs,” said Lally.
Those insurance runs turned out to be the winning margin. The Aviators inched closer and made things interesting in the ninth when Mark Podlas launched a two-run homer with one out for the game’s final runs. Ianniciello then brought in reliever Mike Zaccardo, who retired two of the three batters he faced, the final one on a strikeout.
That brought the Ospreys their first win over the Aviators in four meetings between the teams this season.
Perez said, “We feel that they think that they have our number, and we just wanted to win the game, show them that we’re not afraid of them.”