The Long Island Road Warriors looked right at home.
So much so, in fact, that they didn’t panic after falling behind a couple of runs. Instead, they used a five-run burst in the sixth inning to topple the North Fork Ospreys, 5-2, in Game 1 of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League semifinals on Thursday.
As their nickname suggests, the Road Warriors don’t have an official home field.
“All year long we’ve been on the road,” said Long Island coach Neal Heaton, a former major league pitcher.
The longest road trip of your career, right?
“No,” he replied, “I’ve had longer than that, believe me.”
Playing all these road games doesn’t seem to have hurt the Road Warriors, though. The first-year club finished the regular season in second place with a 24-16-1 record.
Not having a place to call home, Heaton said, is “actually easier, if you think about it. We don’t have to line the fields. We don’t have to get the fields ready. We don’t have to do anything. We come, play and go home.”
And, more often than not, they win.
For this series they are calling Stony Brook Southampton home, and it suited their purposes just fine in Game 1.
The Ospreys started off well enough, riding a 2-0 lead from Chris Adams’ fourth homer of the summer and Luke Stampfl’s RBI single in the third inning.
Ospreys starter Stephen Hansen turned in a commendable performance on an overcast afternoon that saw intermittent light sprinkles fall. Hansen showed himself to be something of an escape artist, too. Long Island threatened with two runners on base in three straight innings, only to come away empty-handed each time. Hansen picked up strikeouts for the third outs in the second and third innings and benefitted when Nico Doria lined into a 4-4-6 double play to end the fourth.
But the line between winning and losing can be a fine one. Games can turn on an at-bat or two.
Hansen ran into trouble in the sixth when the bottom of Long Island’s batting order came up big. A Marc Wangenstein double and walks by Michael Veit and Ben McNeill set the table for Doria, the No. 8 hitter who socked an RBI single. That prompted Ospreys coach Bill Ianniciello to take the ball from Hansen and bring in Tanner Propst. No. 9 hitter Ron Linsalato welcomed Propst by lashing a two-run single to leftfield.
Just like that, Long Island was ahead, 3-2.
“It’s a game of inches,” Hansen said. “When Tanner comes in, if that ground ball’s a foot to the left, it’s a double play, we’re out of the inning, but it just sneaks through and then this happens, this happens and then the game’s out of hand.”
But the Road Warriors weren’t done. A throwing error brought in two more runs.
“I think our pitchers threw a very good game,” Adams said. “They got ground balls, which should have been outs. I think we need to clean up the defense, and I think that’s really what killed us here today.”
Hansen allowed six hits and four runs. “He pitched well enough to win the game for us,” Ianniciello said. “He pitched a good game.”
Hansen, however, wasn’t happy with the five walks he issued. He had six strikeouts.
“Not too great,” he said. “I gave a lot of free passes to guys. I didn’t really have my off-speed pitches.”
Lefthanded reliever Tristan Amone picked up the win for Long Island. In the three-plus innings he pitched, he gave up four hits, a walk and had two strikeouts.
The Ospreys are 2-6 against Long Island and there’s a reason for that.
“I think they’re pretty good,” Adams said. “I think they definitely take advantage of the opportunities that they’re given. They’re not necessarily going to crush the ball, but they’re going to pitch well; they’re going to play good defense.”
For Game 2 of the best-of-three series, the Ospreys will return home to Peconic Friday night. Long Island will be on the road, but then again, that’s just where they feel at home.
Photo caption: Chris Adams is congratulated by North Fork coach Bill Ianniciello while rounding third base on his home run in the third inning. (Credit: Bob Liepa)