HCBL SEMIFINALS, GAME 2 | AVIATORS 4, OSPREYS 2
The dominant theme so far in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League playoffs is that these games are close affairs. Just look at the final scores from the first four games in the two semifinal series: 1-0, 3-0 (in 13 innings), 3-2 (in 10 innings), 4-2.
No blowouts here. Those results indicate that runs are hard to come by, and so are wins. No one said the road to the league championship would be easy.
“You have some of the best players from around the country playing together, and no one wants to lose,” said Ryan Burns, the North Fork Ospreys captain and third baseman. “You’re either a winner or you’re not, and I think everyone here wants to be a winner.”
In tight games such as these, the slightest thing can mean the difference between victory or defeat. One pitch. One swing of the bat. One catch.
And then there is what Cole Miller did for the Westhampton Aviators on Tuesday night at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic.
With two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Miller cleared the bases with a double that gave the Aviators a three-run lead, sending them on their way to a 4-2 victory over the Ospreys to force a decisive third game in the semifinal series.
“He definitely carried us offensively today and put some good swings on the ball,” Aviators manager Lou Bernardi said. “Cole is definitely an offensive threat. He’s a big lefty in the middle of the lineup, and it’s hard to throw a fastball by him.”
As the Ospreys learned only too well.
Losing is not something the Ospreys have been used to lately. Tuesday’s defeat was only the team’s second loss in 14 games.
Miller had a tremendous game. The left fielder, a quality player from a strong Georgia Tech program, went 3 for 4 (all of those hits were doubles) and drove in four runs.
“I like the spotlight,” he said. “I like the big game.”
After losing the first game of the series, 1-0, the day before, the Aviators were facing elimination. Then Miller stepped to the plate in the seventh and came through in a big way.
After Ospreys pitcher Tyler Knight retired the first two batters that inning, he walked Joey Havrilak and saw Ryan Spaulding line a broken-bat single to left field. That marked the end of the night for Knight, who gave up four hits over six and two-third innings and walked off the field to warm applause from the home fans.
His replacement, David Deliz, struck J. C. Brandmaier with his first pitch, loading the bases for Miller. When Miller saw a pitch he liked, he ripped a shot past the sprawling left fielder, Michael Fries, clearing the bases and snapping a 1-1 tie.
“Two-out hits are big,” Burns said. “That’s what wins and loses ball games.”
Miller said: “I give all the credit to my teammates to put me in that position, and I was lucky enough to get a bat on the ball, and good things happen.”
It was also Miller who doubled in the run that made it 1-1 an inning earlier.
The Ospreys have a Miller, too — right fielder Austin Miller. He was responsible for North Fork’s first run in the fifth, which he led off by looping a hit to center field. After a walk to Nick Heath and a double steal, Miller beat shortstop Rick Alessi’s throw home on Mike Hayden’s fielder’s choice.
The Ospreys’ second run came in the eighth when Hayden scored on a double-play ball.
Kyle Raleigh was the winning pitcher. Over seven innings, he gave up six hits and one run.
Ryan Solberg and Fries had two hits each for the Ospreys. Fries stole two bases and Solberg had one theft.
During the game it was announced that the Center Moriches Battlecats had topped the Sag Harbor Whalers, 3-2, to sweep that series and advance to the finals. The Ospreys wanted to conclude their semifinal series, too, but Cole Miller had other ideas.
Now it comes down to Game 3, which is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at Aviator Field in Westhampton.
“It’s going to come down to tomorrow,” Burns said. “Not a lot of us will ever get to play for a championship again. College baseball is so competitive. I know I’ve never dogpiled. I’ve never won a state title in high school. I’ve never had the chance to go to Omaha yet.”
Bernardi had to like the way his Aviators responded after a difficult defeat one day earlier. He said, “Today was a game that we knew it was win or go home, and we wanted to play one more game, and we get to do that tomorrow.”
It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to predict another close one. After all, it’s the playoffs.