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07/16/17 8:17pm
07/16/2017 8:17 PM

Planes were flying high over Aviator Field, one after another it seemed, on Sunday afternoon. But planes haven’t been the only things flying around the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League this season. Aviators and Ospreys have been flying as well.

The first-place Westhampton Aviators have been enjoying a tremendous season as they go about defending their league championship. The third-place North Fork Ospreys started the day having won eight of their previous 10 games.
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07/31/13 7:31pm
07/31/2013 7:31 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | North Fork right fielder Ryan Solberg making a catch for a long out.

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.

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.”

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07/30/13 10:25pm
07/30/2013 10:25 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork center fielder Nick Heath closing in on a  catch of a line drive hit by Westhampton's Darius Washington in the second inning.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork center fielder Nick Heath closing in on a catch of a line drive hit by Westhampton’s Darius Washington in the second inning.

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.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | The osprey sculpture at Jean W. Cochran Park looking down at the North Fork baseball team named after it.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | The osprey sculpture at Jean W. Cochran Park looking down at the North Fork baseball team named after it.

“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.

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07/29/13 8:10pm
07/29/2013 8:10 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | David Jesch prevailed in a pitching duel for North Fork, allowing five hits over seven scoreless innings.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | David Jesch prevailed in a pitching duel for North Fork, allowing five hits over seven scoreless innings.

HCBL SEMIFINALS, GAME 1 | OSPREYS 1, AVIATORS 0

Good pitchers find ways out of jams, and David Jesch was in one heck of a jam.

The North Fork Ospreys pitcher saw the first three Westhampton Aviators reach base in the second inning on Monday. Cole Miller drew a walk, Darius Washington was hit by a pitch, and Mitch Montaldo put down a bunt single that first baseman Mike Hayden fielded, only to miss the tag attempt on Montaldo along the first-base line.

That is when Jesch needed a moment to collect his thoughts.

“I really dug deep,” Jesch said. “I took a step off the mound, took a deep breath.”

And then he turned in what might have been his best work of the day. With the bases loaded and none out, Jesch buckled down, retiring the next three batters. Dan Parisi lined out, Brian Lee fouled out and Rick Alessi flied out. Jesch escaped the jam unscathed and the Ospreys hung on for a 1-0 triumph in Game 1 of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League semifinals.

The hot Ospreys can take the best-of-three semifinal series with a win tomorrow night in Peconic. They have won 12 of their last 13 games and their last four meetings with the Aviators.

Jesch prevailed in a genuine pitching duel, thanks in part to his ability to pitch effectively with runners on base. Some fine fielding behind him didn’t hurt, either.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Fine defensive play, including some from third baseman Ryan Burns, helped the Ospreys win their first playoff game.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Fine defensive play, including some from third baseman Ryan Burns, helped the Ospreys win their first playoff game.

“David maybe didn’t have his best velocity today, but he competed,” Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello said. “He got in trouble, he got himself out of innings, executed pitches, guys made plays behind him, you know, hung on. You got to make pitches. Give him credit.”

Jesch’s counterpart, Preston Brown, deserves plenty of credit himself. Brown went the distance for the Aviators, giving up six hits. The righty from Mississippi State struck out six and didn’t issue a walk. During one stretch, he retired 17 batters in a row.

For all his effort, though, he was the losing pitcher.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” Brown said of what he regarded as his best performance of the summer.

Jesch had something that Brown didn’t have: a run to work with. The Ospreys spotted him a 1-0 lead before he even stepped on the mound at Aviator Field in Westhampton. That run was the result of Austin Miller being hit by a pitch, Jim Pjura slapping a single to left field, and then Hayden slicing a two-out single to right.

The Ospreys then let Jesch handle things for the first seven innings. The right-hander from Hofstra University allowed five hits, three walks and struck out six in his 109-pitch effort before Dalton Curtis relieved him for the last two innings.

Ianniciello said Jesch has been the Ospreys’ most consistent starting pitcher. Jesch led the league in strikeouts with 52 during the regular season. He went 5-0 with a 2.38 earned run average. That record of achievement earned him the honor of starting the first playoff game.

“It’s a lot of pressure, but I try to do my best,” Jesch said. “I felt like I didn’t have my best stuff. … I feel like my location at times was a little off. It’s a struggle at times.”

But Jesch came through when it really counted, like in the seventh when the Aviators put two runners on base. Jesch fanned J. C. Brandmaier for the third out.

The Ospreys also benefitted from some nice glove work, particularly a fine running grab by Michael Fries of a hard-hit line drive to left field.

“The defense was tremendous,” said Jesch.

The Aviators were putting runners on base; they just couldn’t bring them home. Westhampton stranded 11 runners and went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

“It came down to execution,” Aviators manager Lou Bernardi said. “In playoff baseball, it’s who can make the fundamental plays the most. When you get playoff baseball, it’s going to come down to good pitching, good defense and timely hitting.”

And perhaps managing to get out of a jam or two.

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07/21/13 8:53pm
07/21/2013 8:53 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mitch Montaldo of Westhampton reaches base on a fielder's choice in the second inning despite an attempted tag by North Fork first baseman Mike Hayden.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mitch Montaldo of Westhampton is tagged out by North Fork first baseman Mike Hayden for the third out in the third inning.

OSPREYS 9, AVIATORS 2

A long reliever’s job requires that he be ready on short notice. Even so, the task placed before J. A. Harville on Sunday was really short notice.

Harville was brought into the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League game for the North Fork Ospreys just two batters into the Westhampton Aviators’ lineup, after starting pitcher Cody Johnson was hit in his pitching arm by a line drive. No matter. Harville, a left-hander from South Alabama, gave the Ospreys what they needed: five and two-third innings of steady pitching. The result was a 9-2 win at Aviator Field in Westhampton and the Ospreys’ seventh victory in 10 games.

“It was just, ‘Bam,’ you’re right on the mound,” Harville said. “You’re always ready to go in the bullpen. You never know what’s going to transpire on the field. It was unfortunate for him to get hit, but you just got to be ready.”

Harville certainly was. With his parents, Steve and Shana, watching after making a 27-hour drive to see him pitch, Harville rose to the occasion. He gave up six hits and two runs to the Aviators after Johnson was struck above his right elbow with a stinging smash by Ryan Spaulding in the first inning. Johnson, who was in obvious pain, watched the rest of the game from the dugout.

“I think he’s going to have a pretty big bruise with the swelling,” Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello said. “I don’t know how soon he’ll be O.K., but he’ll be O.K.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork's starting pitcher, Cody Johnson, grimmacing in pain after being struck in the arm by a line drive in the first inning.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork’s starting pitcher, Cody Johnson, grimmacing in pain after being struck in the arm by a line drive in the first inning.

The Ospreys are thankful that Harville was more than O.K., not to mention their offense.

The bulk of that offense came in the form of a five-run fifth inning when the Ospreys snapped a 2-2 tie. Austin Miller doubled in the go-ahead run. Ryan Burns, Mike D’Acunti and Michael Fries supplied run-scoring singles that inning.

The Ospreys’ leadoff hitter, Nick Heath, turned in a productive game, accounting for three hits, three runs scored and two stolen bases. Burns also had a three-hit game as the Ospreys churned out 13 hits. Jim Pjura and D’Acunti drove in two runs each.

Darius Washington extended his hitting streak to 12 games for the Aviators, going 3 for 4 with a double.

The win was all the more impressive coming against the Aviators. Last summer the Aviators finished in sixth place in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League Hampton Division with an 18-22 record. They have turned things around in a big way this year. The second-place Aviators had won eight of their previous 10 games. Sunday’s result left them at 22-14.

“I’m not surprised by any team,” Aviators manager Lou Bernardi said of the Ospreys. “They’re a good team. Offensively, they can cut it with anybody. Today they had our number.”

The Ospreys are playing better than they did earlier in the season, having tightened up their defense and their bullpen. With Sunday’s win, they pulled to within one win of .500 with a 17-18 record. It was a vital win, as they are in a tight three-team race for one of the league’s four playoff spots.

After Sunday’s games, the Ospreys remained in fourth place, one game ahead of the Riverhead Tomcats and one and a half games in front of the Shelter Island Bucks.

“Three teams playing for one spot, so every win is important,” said Ianniciello.

The Ospreys, who are in their fifth year of existence, have never failed to qualify for the playoffs. They don’t want to spoil that spotless record this year.

“It’s getting tight,” Harville said. “This league is really competitive so you can never take a day off. This team works tremendously hard. This team really wants to be in the playoffs. It would be an embarrassment not to get in the playoffs.”

That is why it sounds as if Ianniciello isn’t as interested in talking about the past as the future. “It’s about tomorrow, not yesterday,” he said.
Sunday was about Harville meeting the challenge in a critical game at a critical point during the final week of the regular season for the Ospreys.

“He was available in the bullpen,” Ianniciello said. “We weren’t planning on going to him in the first inning, but he came in and did a great job for us.”

That’s the long and the short of it.

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07/24/12 9:03pm
07/24/2012 9:03 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork shortstop Alex Perez positioning himself to snag a ground ball during the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader in Westhampton.

AVIATORS 7, OSPREYS 1; AVIATORS 4, OSPREYS 3

After taking care of some old business, the Westhampton Aviators attended to new business on Tuesday — all at the expense of the North Fork Ospreys.

If the Aviators are still alive in the hunt for a playoff berth after Tuesday’s action, they are on life support. They have a doubleheader sweep of the first-place Ospreys at Aviator Field to thank for that.

At the start of the day, the Aviators were three and a half games out of a playoff spot with four regular-season games remaining. The team’s general manager, Henry Bramwell, summed up his team’s playoff chances succinctly. He said, “Two chances: slim and the other one.”

It shows how much can change in a year. Last year the Aviators reached the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League final after winning the Hampton Division title.

“I think we’re still alive,” Westhampton coach James Lally said. “We can only control what we do here, but we’re taking care of business now.”

Indeed, they are. After suffering through a nine-game losing streak earlier in the season, the Aviators (17-21) are 11-5 in their last 16 games. They have also won five of the six games they played against the Ospreys (21-15) this season.

“Ever since the beginning of the year, they’ve had our number,” said Ospreys left fielder Eric Romano.

The Ospreys suffered a scare in the first game — a 7-1 Westhampton win — when their catcher, Mark Brennan, took a foul ball off his facemask in the fourth inning. The ball broke off a piece of the facemask and hurt Brennan, whose jaw appeared to be bothering him. Brennan left the game and was taken to a hospital to be examined. Later, Ospreys coach Bill Ianniciello said an x-ray showed no fracture and Brennan had been advised to rest for a few days.

“I wasn’t sure if it hit him square in the chin or on the facemask, but I guess it did catch him,” Romano said. “He was definitely shook up. He couldn’t even talk when he came back in” to the dugout.

The Ospreys had intended to give their only other catcher, Tim Panetta, the day off. Panetta had taken a fastball off the back of his knee Monday in an 8-7 loss to the Center Moriches Battlecats, but he was pressed into duty Tuesday.

Joe Candela’s grand slam highlighted a six-run rally in the sixth inning of the first game, the resumption of a July 7 contest that had been suspended because of lightning. The game was resumed Tuesday in the bottom of the third inning with the Ospreys leading by 1-0, courtesy of a Robb Paller run-scoring single earlier in the inning.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork center field Kyle Adie made a futile leap for a grand-slam ball struck by Westhampton’s Joe Candela in the sixth inning of the first game.

The Aviators tied it at 1-1 when Mark Podlas delivered a run-scoring double that took a short hop off the center-field fence with two out in the fourth.

But it was in the sixth when the Aviators batted around their order and broke the game open. Matt Kriss singled in the go-ahead run before Mike Elefante was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, making it 3-1. That prompted Ianniciello to pull pitcher Jim Meindl in favor of reliever Ryan Calby. Candela was the first batter Calby faced and Candela drove his bases-loaded homer over the center-field fence. With one swing of the bat for his second homer of the season, Candela nearly doubled his run batted in total for the season, which by the end of the day stood at 10.

Some heads-up base running proved to be the difference in the nightcap, a 4-3 Aviators victory in their final home regular-season game. Alex Hero, who reached base on a fielder’s choice in the seventh inning, stole second base before scoring on two successive throwing errors by the Ospreys on the play. The Ospreys committed three errors in the inning. Hero’s run made the score 4-2.

Ianniciello said it was a matter of his team not executing basic plays. “They scored a couple of runs in the second game without putting the ball in play,” he said.

The Ospreys pulled to within 4-3 in the eighth when a broken-bat infield single by Ryan Solberg was enough to bring Kyle Adie home from third.

Alex Perez led off the ninth for the Ospreys by slapping a single to left field. But reliever Zach Walton got the next two batters out on a 5-4-3 double play and a groundout to end it.

Westhampton’s starting pitcher, Danny Goldstein, received warm applause from the home fans after turning in six and two-third innings of four-hit pitching. The right-hander did not allow an earned run, striking out eight and walking one. Goldstein (3-0) lowered an already miniscule earned run average from 0.30 to 0.25. He has allowed only one earned run in 36 2/3 innings this summer.

The Aviators stole five bases in the second game, three by Sam Frost and two by Hero.

“I really think the main difference today was the base running, to be honest,” Lally said. “We made our own fortune today by the way we attacked the bases.”

The Aviators have two regular-season games remaining — tomorrow in Sag Harbor and Saturday in Center Moriches. They haven’t given up hope of reaching the playoffs.

“We have the tools and the players to do it,” said Brian Guymon, who played left field and designated hitter in the doubleheader and started the day with a team-leading .338 batting average.“They can make us very dangerous. We can beat anybody in the league.”

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