Soaring Ospreys clinch share of first

Anyone anticipating players uncorking bottles of champagne and spraying each other with them would have been disappointed. No, there was no celebratory pileup of players near the pitcher’s mound or even a bucket of water dumped over the manager’s head.

This was all rather anticlimactic, really, but the North Fork Ospreys did clinch at least a share of first place in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League’s Hampton Division all the same, and that was something.

“It’s kind of hard to get excited because we’ve been in first so long,” said Ospreys Manager Shawn Epidendio.

With the Ospreys sitting by themselves in first place since early in the season, it might have seemed a foregone conclusion that they would finish in the top spot. They assured themselves of that with their 4-1 victory over the Riverhead Tomcats in the second game of a doubleheader on Tuesday night at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. The Tomcats won the first game, 2-1.

With their sparkling 24-9 record, the Ospreys can assure themselves of sole possession of the top spot with their next win. Should they take four of their remaining eight regular-season games, which shouldn’t be a problem given their past performance, they would give themselves the best record in the league and be rewarded with the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

“We all had the expectation to win,” Ospreys second baseman Dan Muscatello said. “We’re out here for a reason. We’re out here to play and win. Everybody is playing for the team, not themselves.”

Last season the Ospreys clinched first place in their final regular-season game. Following a 4-10 start to the 2009 season, the team went 25-15 in the regular season before going on to lose to the Westhampton Aviators in the division finals.

This year, though, the Ospreys have been a model of consistency. They haven’t had any major stumbling blocks, and haven’t lost more than two straight games during any stretch.

“We’ve got a good ball club here, a lot of talent, and everyone really works hard,” said Ospreys first baseman Eric Williams.

In Tuesday’s nightcap, the Ospreys used a three-run rally in the fourth inning to surge ahead, 4-1. All three hits by the Ospreys that inning were big. Robert Kelly led off with a double. Later, Muscatello lined a run-scoring single and Nick Lingvay delivered a two-run single that dribbled through the infield.

Williams had stroked a two-out single, scoring Muscatello from third base to open the scoring in the third. Muscatello had led off by muscling a single through the middle.

Nathan Pittman’s speed enabled the Tomcats (16-18) to draw even in the fourth. The fleet-footed Pittman doubled, and then tagged to third on a fly ball. Eric Schlitter’s sacrifice fly allowed him to score, tying it at 1-1.

Kelly (1-0) picked up the win, allowing one hit and striking out five over four innings.

The Ospreys were forced to wait for their title-clinching win as the Tomcats took the first game of the twinbill. A combined one-hitter by Dom Macaluso and Michael Zaccardo brought the Tomcats the one-run victory in the first game. The Ospreys’ only hit was a home run by Billy Ferriter, who smoked the first pitch thrown by Macaluso over right field for a 1-0 lead. It was his first homer of the season.

The game swung Riverhead’s way in the sixth. Jeff Welsh turned on an inside pitch for a sharply struck single off the left-field fence. One out later, Isaac Rodriguez delivered a well-driven double that bounced to the center-field fence, snapping a 1-1 tie.

The game remained fairly uneventful after Ferriter’s homer until the fifth when the Tomcats evened things at a run apiece. Eric Romano reached base on a fielding error, was singled over to third base on a pinch-hit single by Matt Fleishman, and then raced home on a slow dribbler of a groundout by Tyler Brant.

Macaluso (3-1) went five innings, striking out four. Aside from Ferriter, the only other base runners Macaluso allowed were the result of two walks and a dropped third strike.

Zaccardo, filling the closer role for the Tomcats, took over from Macaluso. He retired all six batters he faced for his third save. One of those outs came on a nice sprawling catch by the center fielder, Romano, as he raced in on a liner hit by Williams for the second out in the ninth.

Chuck Fontana (2-3) was the hard-luck losing pitcher. He went the distance, giving up four hits and one earned run, striking out six.

Dependable pitching and depth have been cornerstones of the Ospreys’ success.

“I think what’s important about our team is we just come out here and have fun,” Williams said. “We don’t have to worry about having a bad day. You come out to the park and you don’t have your best stuff one day, someone else on the team is going to pick you up. That’s how we ran all season.”

Not to be forgotten, either, is the team’s winning mentality.

“They play the game hard. That’s all I can ask for,” Epidendio said. “They want to win. Flat out, the whole group does not like to lose.”

They don’t do it too often.

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LAMACCHIA GOES THE DISTANCE Derek Lamacchia pitched a complete game with 87 pitches for the Ospreys in their 3-2 defeat of the Sag Harbor Whalers on Saturday at Mashashimuet Park. Robert Kelly’s two-out single in the eighth inning scored Ryan Brockett from second place for the go-ahead run, breaking a 2-2 tie. Lamacchia’s five-hitter, which brought him his division-leading fifth win, was supported by six hits by the Ospreys, including two by Ryan Lee. Kevin Grove went 3 for 3, with a walk and a run batted in for the Whalers.

OSPREYS CRANK OUT 11 HITS Billy Ferriter, Dan Muscatello and Brendan O’Brien drove in two runs each as the Ospreys topped the Westhampton Aviators, 9-5, on Thursday in Peconic. Ferriter and Robert Kelly both had three-hit games for the Ospreys, who totaled 11 hits. Winning pitcher Aaron Snyder struck out 10 in six and two-thirds innings. Kevin Heller knocked in three of Westhampton’s runs.

MACALUSO THROWS EIGHT INNINGS Riverhead took a 3-0 lead by the third inning, and Dom Macaluso pitched eight innings of four-hit ball as the Tomcats held off the Ospreys, 3-2, last Wednesday night at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. Macaluso gave up two earned runs, walking two and striking out two. Michael Zaccardo picked up the save, tossing a hitless ninth inning.