ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | North Fork right fielder Ryan Solberg making a catch for a long out.
HCBL SEMIFINALS, GAME 3 | OSPREYS 3, AVIATORS 2 (12 INNINGS)
Armed with a broken bat, Ryan Solberg shattered the championship dreams — and hearts — of the Westhampton Aviators. At the same time, he gave his own team, the North Fork Ospreys, a boost, like a warm wind current upon which to soar to greater heights.
And it all came from a broken bat.
When a hitter breaks a bat while making contact with a pitch, it often results in a foul ball, a shallow popup or a weak grounder. But what may have been the most memorable broken bat of Solberg’s career resulted in a single that is sending the Ospreys to the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League finals.
“It makes it a little special,” Solberg said. “I have to keep that bat, for sure.”
With one out, two runners on base and two strikes against him in the top of the 12th inning, Solberg muscled the ball over second baseman Ryan Spaulding and into right-center field, scoring Jim Pjura for the go-ahead run in a 3-2 triumph over the Westhampton Aviators in the decisive third game of their semifinal series on Wednesday evening.
“I had a nice Texas Leaguer there,” he said after the game at Aviator Field in Westhampton. “That’s how baseball is. You just need a lucky break.”
Solberg said the pitch jammed him a little, but he thought the ball would clear the infield, so when he saw Pjura running back to second base, he yelled at him to go home.
Aviators manager Lou Bernardi said the single summed up a series in which hits “came at a premium.”
The Ospreys advance to the best-of-three finals against the Center Moriches Battlecats, who had swept their semifinal opponents, the Sag Harbor Whalers, in two games. That series will start Friday night in Peconic.
ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Dalton Curtis was the second of three pitchers North Fork used in its 12-inning victory over Westhampton.
The Ospreys have made quite an about-face. They started the season with a 2-8 record and were at the bottom of the standings at one point before gradually working their way up the ladder. They have turned their season around. Wednesday’s result was their 13th win in 15 games, and now the fifth-year club is two wins away from what would be its second league title. The Ospreys were Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2010. Like that 2010 team, these Ospreys certainly know how to win.
“We do a lot of different things to win games,” said Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello.
On Wednesday there wasn’t much that the Ospreys didn’t do well. Their pitching and defense were top-notch.
Ospreys reliever Anthony Rosati entered the game in the bottom of the 12th after Cole Miller had led off with a stand-up double. But Rosati retired all three batters he faced, with the help of a fine stop by third baseman Ryan Burns of a hard-hit grounder by Darius Washington, who was thrown out on the play for the first out. The first baseman, Mike Hayden, did well to pick the ball out of the dirt.
“That’s the stuff that wins and loses games,” said Ianniciello.
All of the Aviators’ runs came in the first inning when J. C. Brandmaier, a strong candidate for the league’s most valuable player award, catapulted a two-run homer for a 2-1 lead.
Brandmaier, a superb talent from Dowling College, nearly won the triple crown this summer. He led the league in batting average (.382), was tied for first in home runs (6) and tied for second in runs batted in (28).
Bernardi knows who is getting his MVP vote.
“He had a tremendous season,” the manager said. “He was the guy that every pitcher circled in the lineup and said, ‘We don’t want this guy to beat us.’ There was no hot or cold streak for him. He stayed consistent for two months.”
But after Brandmaier’s homer, the pitching of Joe Salanitri, Dalton Curtis and Rosati kept the Aviators scoreless the rest of the way. Salanitri was economical, needing only 83 pitches over the eight innings he worked. The right-hander gave up three hits, one walk and had three strikeouts.
The Ospreys took a 1-0 lead in the first. Austin Miller delivered a double before Hayden singled him home.
“These are one of those games where you’re just sitting on the edge of your seat the whole game,” Salanitri said. “This kind of game is what baseball is all about.”
It was a remarkably tight, well-played series that underscored baseball’s fickle nature. After the Ospreys took Game 1, 1-0, the Aviators replied with a 4-2 win in the second game.
“It’s been a great series,” Salanitri said. “There were a lot of points in this game where we were just like, ‘Oh boy,’ and you’re thinking, ‘This doesn’t look good for us.’ And then all of a sudden we’re back up. It’s really a roller-coaster ride, so you just have to hang with it the whole time.”
Solberg remembers the way the ride ended last summer, with him making the final out in the first round of the playoffs. He should have fonder memories of these playoffs.
“It was good to come back and redeem myself, to be able to get the big hit at the end,” he said.
After Burns squeezed Dan Parisi’s popup for the game’s final out, the Ospreys happily exchanged high-fives. They could finally breath easy again.
“Thank God it’s over,” Salanitri said. “Let’s go on to the championship.”