The ability to hit with two out is an invaluable quality for a baseball team. It has been one of the areas where the North Fork Ospreys have excelled this Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League season. A two-out, five-run rally by the Ospreys in the opening game of the Hampton Division finals on Tuesday may go a long way toward knocking the Riverhead Tomcats out of the series.
That rally, along with a four-run-batted-in performance by Rob Kelly, boosted the Ospreys to a 10-3 victory at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic.
“People say two-out RBIs are one of the biggest things in baseball,” said Kelly, the cleanup hitter who played first base. “It goes back to how we can manufacture runs. … That’s one of the biggest things of our season, just getting that run across and not leaving guys stranded out there.”
Game 2 was to be played yesterday in Riverhead. A third game, if necessary, will be played tonight in Peconic. But, obviously, taking the first game of a short series is big.
“We had to show what we were made of,” Kelly said. “It’s always important to win the first game of a series just because you have that momentum going into the second game. … You have that cushion.”
The Ospreys pulled away in the third inning when they scored five times with two out for a 7-3 advantage. After Ryan Brockett scored from third base on a passed ball, tying the score at 3-3, Kurt Schlangen clubbed a two-run double off the center-field fence. It was the first of two doubles in the game for him.
An RBI single by Dan Muscatello and a bases-loaded walk by Brockett completed the rally, which knocked Riverhead’s starting pitcher, Jack Lane, out of the game.
“Those two-out RBIs can either [hurt] a team or really help a team,” Kelly said. “That’s when we were like: ‘O.K., let’s go. Let’s shift into sixth gear and put it on them.’ “
That rally was kept alive because Nick Lingvay hustled on a fielder’s choice to avoid hitting into what would have been an inning-ending double play. “If we turn that double play, we’re out of the inning, but that hustle saved them,” said Tomcats Manager Randy Caden.
Kelly picked up three of his four RBI on one swing in the eighth. With two runners on base, Kelly drove the ball over the right-field fence, extending the Ospreys’ lead to 10-3. His home run, by the way, came with two out.
“Two-out hitting is big,” Ospreys Manager Shawn Epidendio said. “There have been multiple times this year when we’ve scored four or five runs with two outs.”
Derek Lamacchia struck out nine to help him record the win. He gave up six hits and three runs over seven innings.
Lamacchia got off to a shaky start, giving up a single and three walks in the first inning, including one with the bases loaded to Kevin Curtis for a 1-0 Tomcats lead.
Riverhead’s lead didn’t last long, though. In the bottom half of the inning, the Ospreys struck back for two runs. Kelly singled home Billy Ferriter, who had led off with a single, and Ryan Lee picked up an RBI on a fielder’s choice.
Needham, the home-run hero of Riverhead’s semifinal victory over the Westhampton Aviators the day before, socked his second homer in as many days, a two-run shot for a 3-2 Tomcats lead in the third.
Tuesday’s game was Epidendio’s last with the Ospreys this year. He said he had to leave the team for business reasons. In his absence, an assistant coach, Brian Hansen, will be in charge.
The Ospreys, who finished the regular season in first place with a 27-14 record, sat in the top spot virtually the entire regular season. They didn’t run into any bumps in the road until late in the regular season.
“We just hit a little rough patch, but the guys kept working,” said Epidendio.
The second game of the series will see the Ospreys send Chuck Fontana to the hill against Joey Novak. For a potential third game, Epidendio said the Ospreys would most likely pitch Kelly, who would be matched up against Chris Pabisch.
Now it is the Tomcats who have their work ahead of them. Coming back from a game down would not be easy. The Tomcats do not have a cushion to rest on.
“We just got to play better baseball than we did today. That’s what it comes down to,” Needham said. “We just got to get through tomorrow. We’re not really focused on Thursday because without tomorrow we don’t have a Thursday.”