Fielding makes first league title doubly sweet

Billy Ferriter and his North Fork Ospreys teammates flew to their first league and division championships.

The Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League championship trophy is topped by a gold-plated baseball player holding a bat. It might have been more fitting if the trophy featured a player wearing a glove, fielding a ground ball or turning a double play.

The North Fork Ospreys turned four double plays Sunday night to help themselves to the first league title in the club’s two-year history. Back-to-back home runs by Rocco Gondek and David Jacob didn’t hurt, either, accounting for four runs in the Ospreys’ 5-4 victory over the Quakertown Blazers at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic.

Lee Weld picked up the three-out save, but not without some anxious moments. The Blazers pulled to within 5-4 in the ninth inning when James Quigley doubled home a run and Eric Kammler singled in another.

But after a visit to the mound by the Ospreys’ assistant coach and acting manager, Brian Hansen, Weld got Dan Johnson to bounce a grounder to third baseman Sebastian Grazziani, who threw to first baseman Rob Kelly for the final out of the season. Weld tossed his glove high in the air, and was soon joined by jubilant teammates who mobbed each other on the infield grass.

“There’s only one team that’s happy at the end of the season, and I’m glad it’s us,” said Ospreys shortstop Andrew Harris, whose team went 31-15 this summer, posting the most wins in league history.

It was only three nights earlier when the Ospreys celebrated their first Hampton Division title on the same field after taking two of three games from the Riverhead Tomcats.

Double plays proved to be the Ospreys’ best friend in the league final. Their infield executed four double plays to frustrate Quakertown’s efforts. A 4-6-3 double play ended the top of the first, a 4-6-3 concluded the top of the third, a 6-6-3 cut short the sixth, and a 6-4-3 snuffed out a threat in the eighth.

“I think defense is our strongpoint, and tonight it really showed,” Ospreys second baseman Ryan Brockett said. “It’s a big momentum shift when we just take two outs on them and head on back to the dugout.”

Blazers designated hitter Adam Kammler said: “It’s a game of inches, it’s a game of centimeters, millimeters, whatever [way] you want to look at it. Sometimes the ball rolls your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”

The Blazers shot in front in the third when Robbie Zinsmeister led off with a blast that landed beyond the center-field fence for a 1-0 lead.

It would have been understandable if the Wolff Division champion Blazers were weary on Sunday. In order to reach the league final for the first time since they were league champions in 2005, they had to go 16 innings to defeat the Torrington Titans, 2-1, on Saturday night. Then the Blazers had to make a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Pennsylvania to eastern Long Island.

If the Blazers were feeling any fatigue from their game the night before or the long bus ride, though, it didn’t show.

The Ospreys responded in a big way in their half of the third. A single by Kurt Schlangen and a walk by Kelly set up Gondek’s three-run homer. Then Jacob, who had not homered this summer, socked a home run that landed not far from where Gondek’s shot fell beyond center field. It was one of three hits on the night for Jacob.

“I thought it was over then. I really did,” Hansen said. “We had that lead, with our pitching staff that we have, I really thought it was over, and it was over.”

Jacob said Gondek playfully made a suggestion to him after homering. “He said, ‘Let’s go back to back,’ just kidding around,” Jacob said. “It actually ended up happening, so it was pretty neat.”

The Blazers cut the Ospreys’ lead to 4-2 in the fourth thanks to singles by Johnson, Adam Kammler and Matt Albaugh.

The Ospreys made it 5-2 in the fifth when Jacob’s two-out single and steal of second base was followed by a Harris double that took one bounce before hitting the center-field fence.

Derek Lamacchia, who relieved Aaron Snyder after five innings, escaped a jam in the seventh. After the Blazers loaded the bases with two walks and a single, Lamacchia struck out Johnson for the third out, and the Blazers got nothing out of the inning.

“Well, what are you going to do?” Blazers Manager Mike Schneider said while looking across the diamond as the Ospreys celebrated and posed for photos. “As I said, that’s a great team over there, and there’s a reason why they’re in this championship game.”

Hansen was running the team for the third straight game in the absence of Manager Shawn Epidendio, who had to leave the team to serve as the best man at a wedding. Epidendio was said to be following live updates of the final on the Internet.

When the postgame celebrations wound down, Hansen bid farewell to his players.

“It was a great experience,” Hansen said. “I hope we get a team like this again, but who knows? This might be a once-in-a-lifetime team.”

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