Baseball: Aviators, struggling to stay alive, take two from Ospreys

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork shortstop Alex Perez positioning himself to snag a ground ball during the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader in Westhampton.


After taking care of some old business, the Westhampton Aviators attended to new business on Tuesday — all at the expense of the North Fork Ospreys.

If the Aviators are still alive in the hunt for a playoff berth after Tuesday’s action, they are on life support. They have a doubleheader sweep of the first-place Ospreys at Aviator Field to thank for that.

At the start of the day, the Aviators were three and a half games out of a playoff spot with four regular-season games remaining. The team’s general manager, Henry Bramwell, summed up his team’s playoff chances succinctly. He said, “Two chances: slim and the other one.”

It shows how much can change in a year. Last year the Aviators reached the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League final after winning the Hampton Division title.

“I think we’re still alive,” Westhampton coach James Lally said. “We can only control what we do here, but we’re taking care of business now.”

Indeed, they are. After suffering through a nine-game losing streak earlier in the season, the Aviators (17-21) are 11-5 in their last 16 games. They have also won five of the six games they played against the Ospreys (21-15) this season.

“Ever since the beginning of the year, they’ve had our number,” said Ospreys left fielder Eric Romano.

The Ospreys suffered a scare in the first game — a 7-1 Westhampton win — when their catcher, Mark Brennan, took a foul ball off his facemask in the fourth inning. The ball broke off a piece of the facemask and hurt Brennan, whose jaw appeared to be bothering him. Brennan left the game and was taken to a hospital to be examined. Later, Ospreys coach Bill Ianniciello said an x-ray showed no fracture and Brennan had been advised to rest for a few days.

“I wasn’t sure if it hit him square in the chin or on the facemask, but I guess it did catch him,” Romano said. “He was definitely shook up. He couldn’t even talk when he came back in” to the dugout.

The Ospreys had intended to give their only other catcher, Tim Panetta, the day off. Panetta had taken a fastball off the back of his knee Monday in an 8-7 loss to the Center Moriches Battlecats, but he was pressed into duty Tuesday.

Joe Candela’s grand slam highlighted a six-run rally in the sixth inning of the first game, the resumption of a July 7 contest that had been suspended because of lightning. The game was resumed Tuesday in the bottom of the third inning with the Ospreys leading by 1-0, courtesy of a Robb Paller run-scoring single earlier in the inning.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork center field Kyle Adie made a futile leap for a grand-slam ball struck by Westhampton’s Joe Candela in the sixth inning of the first game.

The Aviators tied it at 1-1 when Mark Podlas delivered a run-scoring double that took a short hop off the center-field fence with two out in the fourth.

But it was in the sixth when the Aviators batted around their order and broke the game open. Matt Kriss singled in the go-ahead run before Mike Elefante was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, making it 3-1. That prompted Ianniciello to pull pitcher Jim Meindl in favor of reliever Ryan Calby. Candela was the first batter Calby faced and Candela drove his bases-loaded homer over the center-field fence. With one swing of the bat for his second homer of the season, Candela nearly doubled his run batted in total for the season, which by the end of the day stood at 10.

Some heads-up base running proved to be the difference in the nightcap, a 4-3 Aviators victory in their final home regular-season game. Alex Hero, who reached base on a fielder’s choice in the seventh inning, stole second base before scoring on two successive throwing errors by the Ospreys on the play. The Ospreys committed three errors in the inning. Hero’s run made the score 4-2.

Ianniciello said it was a matter of his team not executing basic plays. “They scored a couple of runs in the second game without putting the ball in play,” he said.

The Ospreys pulled to within 4-3 in the eighth when a broken-bat infield single by Ryan Solberg was enough to bring Kyle Adie home from third.

Alex Perez led off the ninth for the Ospreys by slapping a single to left field. But reliever Zach Walton got the next two batters out on a 5-4-3 double play and a groundout to end it.

Westhampton’s starting pitcher, Danny Goldstein, received warm applause from the home fans after turning in six and two-third innings of four-hit pitching. The right-hander did not allow an earned run, striking out eight and walking one. Goldstein (3-0) lowered an already miniscule earned run average from 0.30 to 0.25. He has allowed only one earned run in 36 2/3 innings this summer.

The Aviators stole five bases in the second game, three by Sam Frost and two by Hero.

“I really think the main difference today was the base running, to be honest,” Lally said. “We made our own fortune today by the way we attacked the bases.”

The Aviators have two regular-season games remaining — tomorrow in Sag Harbor and Saturday in Center Moriches. They haven’t given up hope of reaching the playoffs.

“We have the tools and the players to do it,” said Brian Guymon, who played left field and designated hitter in the doubleheader and started the day with a team-leading .338 batting average.“They can make us very dangerous. We can beat anybody in the league.”

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