For a frontrunning team that hasn’t had to deal with much adversity this season, the North Fork Ospreys do pretty well whenever they do encounter potential obstacles. The Ospreys sat atop the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League’s Hampton Division in first place for most of the regular season. It was only late in the season when they encountered some stumbling blocks.
No problem. They righted themselves in time for the playoffs and reached the division finals for the second year in a row.
Then, after losing the completion of a suspended game to the Riverhead Tomcats on a walk-off home run earlier in an unusual day, the Ospreys bounced back. They won the decisive third game of the series, 7-3, last Thursday night and grabbed the first division championship in their two-year history.
After Ospreys center fielder Brendan O’Brien made a brilliant catch of a sinking liner hit by Stephen Oswald for the final out, the exuberant Ospreys celebrated on the infield at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic, piling on top of each other with reckless abandon. “Luckily no one got hurt,” said Ospreys pitcher Rob Kelly.
Shortly after, Bryce Mitchell, the director of game-day operations for Hamptons Collegiate Baseball, presented the happy Ospreys with the championship trophy.
“We kind of expected ourselves to get to this point, and to actually accomplish it, I think it just feels great,” said Ospreys catcher Kurt Schlangen, who drove in four runs. Three of those runs came on a homer in the sixth inning when the Ospreys cranked out six hits for a five-run rally and a 7-1 lead. Schlangen also had an RBI double earlier.
Rocco Gondek, who along with Brian Tardif are the only returning Ospreys from last year’s team, smacked a solo homer to snap a 1-1 tie in the fourth. Kelly later added an RBI double during that big sixth. Sebastian Grazziani went 3 for 4 with a walk.
“The way we can manufacture runs is phenomenal,” Kelly said. “Get them on, get them over and get them in. That’s one of our mottos this year.”
Kelly was the winning pitcher, giving up one earned run and six hits in six and two-thirds innings.
Kevin Needham and David Hall both clubbed home runs for the Tomcats.
The Ospreys played without their manager, Shawn Epidendio, who had to leave the team following Game 1 in order to serve as a best man at a wedding. In his place, the team’s assistant coach, Brian Hansen, made his managerial debut last Wednesday, when Game 2 started. Hansen’s first win in the league as an acting manager was for the division title.
“I’m elated,” Hansen said. “I’m happy for the guys because they worked their tails off all season and they deserve this.”
The second game of the series started last Wednesday and was suspended because of darkness after nine innings with the score tied at 4-4.
The teams returned to the Pulaski Street field in Riverhead for the resumption of the game last Thursday, and it didn’t last long. The Tomcats’ first batter in the bottom of the 10th, Matt Fleishman, crushed the second pitch he saw, a hanging slider, for a game-winning home run over the left-field fence. After rounding the bases, Fleishman was swarmed by happy teammates.
The seventh walk-off-winning hit at home by the Tomcats this year extended their season by several hours. Following the game, the teams made the drive to Peconic for the third game.
Fleishman had three RBI in Game 2. He delivered a two-run single on a play in which a third run also scored on an error, giving the Tomcats a 3-2 lead in the fifth.
An RBI single up the middle by Kevin Curtis in the sixth made it 4-2.
Chris Pabisch, who faced one batter last Wednesday, returned the following day and got the win. He gave up one hit and struck out one in one and one-third innings.
Ospreys pitcher Chuck Fontana struck out 10, one shy of a single-game playoff record in the Hampton Division that was set by Alex Pracher of the Westhampton Aviators last year. In five and two-thirds innings. Fontana gave up one earned run, four hits and walked five.
The Ospreys were led offensively by Billy Ferriter (3 for 4, double), Grazziani (2 for 4) and Kelly, whose two-run double tied it at 4-4 in the seventh.
“We didn’t even settle in in the [resumption of Game 2], and the game was over,” Hansen said. “It’s tough. You go from one emotion to the other.”
However, Hansen said the Ospreys felt comfortable playing the third game on their familiar field in Peconic. “We love it here,” he said. “We play pretty well here. This is our park. We believed in our guys, so we knew that we were going to get the job done.”
Gondek said: “It’s awesome. There’s nothing better than winning. The worst feeling is losing, the best feeling is winning.”