The key to Monday night’s game wasn’t so much how the North Fork Ospreys handled Frank Valentino, the Riverhead Tomcats’ ace pitcher, so much as outlasting him.
While Valentino, one of the top pitchers in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, was in the game, the Ospreys managed to scrape a run and five hits off him. Then, after seven innings, the ball was handed to Carmine Vricciariello, who handled Riverhead’s pitching the rest of the way.
It was in the bottom of the ninth inning when the Ospreys struck, capitalizing on a fielding error and three walks (one intentional) to score the tying run on a sacrifice fly by Tom Archer and then the game-winner, a two-out single by Sean Buckhout, for a 3-2 Ospreys triumph at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. Buckhout said it was the first walk-off hit of his career.
The righthanded Valentino, who earlier this season became the first HCBL pitcher to ever win five games in a season, according to league statistician Greg Diener, entered the game with a 5-0 record, but did not figure in the decision. He did, however, lower his ERA from 1.88 to 1.77, which is the fourth-lowest in the league. The New York Tech senior from West Islip delivered five strikeouts (bringing his season total to 39, fifth in the HCBL) and walked one as part of an 82-pitch performance.
All of that good work came undone, however, in the ninth when North Fork’s Alec Wilson led off with a low liner that slipped under second baseman Mike Flynn. Following a four-pitch walk to Bobby Romano, a groundout and an intentional pass to Nick Bellafronto, Archer delivered the game-tying sacrifice fly. Hayden Rappoport then took first base on a four-pitch walk to load the bases for Buckhout. Buckhout said he didn’t make good contact with the ball, but he did enough to bounce a grounder up the middle. The ball shot up on a bad hop by second base, beyond the reach of sprawling shortstop Anthony Lazar as Romano trotted home for the winning run.
It was a good day for Buckhout. The catcher from Stony Brook University also threw out Luke DeVenney and Camillo Spinoso, who both tried to steal second base in the fifth.
The Ospreys (20-14) had struck first in the second. Max Smith, who led off by smacking a gapper for a standup double, was brought home when Rappoport knocked a single that dropped into shallow centerfield.
It was a short-lived lead, though. The Tomcats (17-16-1) fired right back in the third with an unearned run. With two outs and two runners on base, Gavin Garay drove a double to score Tim DeGraw. Benjamin Wanger had rounded third on the play, but slipped and fell on the wet field before getting caught in a rundown.
DeGraw and Spinoso had two hits apiece, one of DeGraw’s hits being a triple that he led off the sixth with. Wanger then worked out a full-count walk. One out later, Wanger bolted for second base, and DeGraw broke for home when Buckhout made the throw to second. The successful double steal snapped the 1-1 tie.
Kevin Ross got the start for the Ospreys, giving up seven hits through seven innings while walking two and striking out six. Kumar Nambiar (1-1) picked up the win in two innings of scoreless relief, during which he conceded one hit, one walk and had three strikeouts.
Photo caption: North Fork’s Max Smith makes contact during Monday night’s game against Riverhead. (Credit: Bill Landon)