Baseball: Ospreys earn place in division finals

Those were geese flying over the Southampton baseball field, not ospreys. But make no mistake, the Ospreys were flying, nonetheless.

The North Fork Ospreys turned in an impressive, complete performance to oust the Southampton Breakers in the third and decisive game of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League Hampton Division semifinals. A quality start from pitcher Milan Mantle along with stellar defense and 10 hits worth of offense gave the Ospreys a 7-2 victory on Monday. With that, they advance to the best-of-three division finals for the third year in a row. The first game of that series against the Westhampton Aviators will be on Wednesday afternoon in Westhampton.

“Whenever you put pitching, defense and hitting together, you’re going to win more times than you lose,” said Ospreys center fielder Brendan O’Brien.

The Ospreys did all of the above without arguably their best player, Ryan Brockett, and one of their co-coaches, Michiel Van Kampen. They were both serving a one-game suspension for their ejection from Game 3 the night before. In that game, the Ospreys blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning and lost in 11 innings.

“It was a downer, but we responded great,” said Mantle.

He wasn’t kidding.

Mantle, the Ospreys’ No. 1 starter, relished the prospect of having the ball handed to him for Game 3. “I love these moments,” he said.

He pitched like it, too. In seven and two-thirds innings, the right-hander limited the Breakers to three hits and was charged with two runs. His 110-pitch effort included four walks and six strikeouts.

“I had everything working, kept the ball low in key spots,” said Mantle, who for the record is not related to the late New York Yankees great Mickey Mantle (“I wish I had his bat, that’s for sure,” he said).

Brian Hansen, the Ospreys’ other co-coach, said: “Milan was phenomenal on the mound today. He really shut the door on them.”

And Mantle had some good defense behind him. The Ospreys made plays.

The biggest was undoubtedly a terrific catch by left fielder Andrew Furr that prevented a grand slam and kept a five-run game from becoming a one-run game in the eighth inning. After Brian Monette relieved Mantle with two out and the bases loaded that inning, Brant Whiting slapped a run-scoring single and Andrew Shimkus scored from third base on a wild pitch, making the score 7-2. But it could have been worse for the Ospreys had Furr not robbed Robb Scott of a grand slam, catching the ball with his glove above the fence to end the inning.

“When I hit it, I thought it was gone,” Scott said. “Out of the box I was fired up, and once I saw him catch it, everything went out of me.”

And there was more fancy glove work: Second baseman Cody Perkins made a nice tumbling catch of a fly ball for the third out in the second inning. Ryan Brown snagged a deep drive hit by Steve Harrington while falling over the right-field fence. Shortstop Ian Vazquez turned in a pair of defensive gems, making a flashy leaping grab of a liner hit by Jordan Zech and a great stop on a hard-hit ground ball by James McMahon, who was thrown out on the play. And last, but not least, was Brown’s diving catch of a Taylor Eads fly ball for the first out in the ninth with two runners on base.

“They played phenomenal defense all day,” Scott said. “They just didn’t make mistakes, and that’s what you have to do to win. We still hit the ball hard, they just made all the plays.”

The Ospreys put up three runs in the second inning for an early lead. With a runner on third base, O’Brien struck a slow grounder that neither the third baseman McMahon or the shortstop Scott could come up with. That brought in the first run. Rocco Gondek then connected for a run-scoring double, and later scored himself on a groundout by Darrin Standish.

The gap between the teams widened in the fifth after Breakers pitcher Ryan Phelan issued walks to Standish and Ryan Williams. They were both brought home on a two-out double that Matt Carroll roped to left field, making it 5-0.

But the Ospreys weren’t through scoring. They kept hitting and tacked on two more runs in the sixth. One of them came courtesy of the sun. Perkins socked a stand-up double. He scored when the next batter, O’Brien, skyed a fly ball and left fielder Steve Schrenk lost it in the sun, allowing the ball to fall to the grass. O’Brien himself scored when the first baseman, Harrington, was unable to pull in a tricky popup by Vazquez to shallow right.

Across the board, it was a feel-good day for the Ospreys.

“I think that shows how much our team is together,” O’Brien said. “Nothing’s really going to get in the way of winning.”

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