OSPREYS 10, WHALERS 1
Defense and pitching. Bill Ianniciello is big on both of them.
Not that the North Fork Ospreys coach didn’t appreciate seeing his team knock four balls over the outfield fence for home runs on Saturday night, but it was the defense, especially, that caught his eye in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League game against the Sag Harbor Whalers. Ianniciello took special delight in a sixth-inning double play made possible by his talented shortstop, Alex Perez. With a runner on first base, Dennis Mitchell bounced a grounder that the smooth-fielding Perez got to before initiating the double play. Score it 6-4-3.
“He made a good pick going to his right, and then he made a good turn,” Ianniciello said. “I love that stuff.”
Then again, there was a lot for the Ospreys to love about their 10-1 win at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. Robb Paller drove in four runs and delivered one of the four home runs struck by the Ospreys (20-12). The Ospreys also received homers from Kyle Adie, Dan Kerr and Ryan Burns. Those four homers accounted for seven of North Fork’s 10 runs. Paller and Perez led North Fork’s 12-hit parade with three hits each.
Meanwhile, Vaughn Hayward turned in a winning pitching performance, going six innings while allowing three hits and one unearned run. Hayward picked up three of his seven strikeouts in the fifth inning when he struck out the side.
But the fielding had to make Ianniciello smile. The Ospreys could jot down some stars in the scorebook next to a few plays they made in the field. One of them was Anthony Aceto’s diving grab of a ball hit by Collin Williams for the third out in the second, leaving the bases loaded. Another was center fielder Kyle Adie’s fine sprawling catch of a fly ball from J. J. Franco for the game’s penultimate out.
The Ospreys looked sharp.
“We played terrific,” said Hayward.
The Hampton Division leaders, who started the day one game ahead of the second-place Shelter Island Bucks, want to be sharp, too. The regular season is making its final turn before hitting the final stretch.
Finishing in first place would be nice for the Ospreys, no doubt, but like many coaches, Ianniciello would rather his team not look too far ahead and focus on the immediate task at hand.
“You know what baseball is, it’s a grind,” he said. “You can’t start thinking too far ahead. Once you start thinking about tomorrow, today doesn’t go well.”
Saturday night went more than well for the Ospreys, starting in the first inning. Within a span of four pitches, Adie and Kerr socked back-to-back home runs for a 2-0 lead.
As it turned out, those were the only runs the Ospreys needed, thanks to the pitching of Hayward, who was ably followed on the mound by Jared Weed, Meindl and Ryan Calby.
The Whalers (12-24) managed their only run in the third. Grant Shambley doubled before heading to third base on a wild pitch. An errant throw on the play allowed him to score.
Paller chopped a run-scoring single up the middle in the fifth to restore the two-run lead.
Sag Harbor’s starting pitcher, Jim Duff, didn’t have a bad outing, striking out eight over five innings. After he made his exit, though, the Ospreys went to work in the sixth. Vinny Citro shot a double to left field, scoring a run, and then Paller followed up with a three-run blast over the right-field fence, making the score 7-1.
“We gave Vaughn way more than he even needed,” said Paller.
Adie scored on a wild pitch in the seventh, and Burns clocked a two-run homer in the eighth to complete the scoring.
“It’s much easier when your team backs you up,” Hayward said. “They made the plays today. We threw up a 10 spot. It makes the pitching that much easier when you have a cushion. So, you just throw strikes, and good things will happen.”
And the presence of a shortstop like Perez helps a lot, too.
“We lost, I think, four games when Perez was away,” Ianniciello said. “You see, he makes a play coming in on the grass that probably nobody in the league makes. He’s a pro-caliber shortstop. It’s a pleasure to watch.”
The other facets of the Ospreys’ game have been easy on the eyes, too.
“We’re putting it together,” Hayward said. “When you’re having fun, everything just falls into place.”