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Baseball: High-flying Ospreys run into turbulence

Planes were flying high over Aviator Field, one after another it seemed, on Sunday afternoon. But planes haven’t been the only things flying around the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League this season. Aviators and Ospreys have been flying as well.

The first-place Westhampton Aviators have been enjoying a tremendous season as they go about defending their league championship. The third-place North Fork Ospreys started the day having won eight of their previous 10 games.

It could be argued that the rivals are the two most successful clubs in the league’s 10-year history. The Aviators have three league titles to their credit and the Ospreys have two.

This season, though, Westhampton seems to have the Ospreys’ number. With their doubleheader sweep Sunday, the Aviators are 5-1 this year against the Ospreys. They clinched a playoff berth for the third straight year with their 5-3 and 9-1 wins.

“They’re a really great team,” said Ospreys centerfielder Parker Bates, whose diving catch in the second game saved two runs. “That’s a reason they’re number one in the league right now. I don’t think we played our best baseball, which happens. … Today was just an off day.”

A potent mix of stellar defense, 18 hits worth of offense in the two games and sound pitching gave the Aviators (24-10) the winning edge.

“They got a really resilient lineup,” Ospreys shortstop Luke Stampfl said. “A lot of guys in their lineup just really swing the bat well. That was very apparent today.”

Indeed it was.

The Aviators scored at least one run in five of the six innings in which they batted in the second game. Nick Bottari, a former Shoreham-Wading River High School player, went 3-for-3 and launched a two-run homer. He raised his batting average from .431 to a league-leading .457. Three runs came off the bat of Joe Curcio, who hammered a ball onto a basketball court about 400 feet from home plate for his fifth long ball of the summer. Ernie Geraci contributed a pair of hits, including a two-run single.

Meanwhile, Grant Young (5-2, 2.62 ERA) kept the Ospreys guessing at the plate. The lefthander allowed one run and five hits over six innings, during which he threw an efficient 74 pitches. After that, Zach Hersh pitched a perfect seventh, striking out the side.

Young’s biggest test came in the second inning when the Ospreys loaded the bases with none out. A flyout and a double play got him out of the inning unscathed.

The Aviators turned inning-ending double plays in the second, third and fourth.

The play of the day, though, came in the first game when Cam Climo’s outstretched glove in centerfield robbed North Fork’s Tom Brady of a hit.

“He made by far one of the best plays I’ve ever seen,” said Stampfl.

Game 1 started off well enough for the Ospreys with solo homers by Bates and Mike Sciorra. Bates’ shot, his sixth of the season, was a no-doubter from the moment he made contact in the first inning.

After two hitless innings, Westhampton got to Ospreys starter Andrew Ciocia with a three-run third that featured a two-run blast that Matt Hansen crushed for his sixth homer and a 3-2 lead. The batter before him, Eric Callahan, brought in his team’s first run on a groundout.

Westhampton tacked on two more runs in the fifth, which it opened with an infield single by Curcio (2-for-3, two runs, stolen base) and Callahan’s hit-and-run double, putting two runners on for Hansen’s third RBI from a groundout. Bottari then delivered a liner, making it 5-2.

Braeden Holub (4-0, 1.52) turned in a fine outing for Westhampton, allowing seven hits over six innings. Two of the three runs the Ospreys scored off him were earned. The righthander did not issue a walk in his 84-pitch performance, striking out two.

That unearned run came in the sixth. Alex Baumann (2-for-3) led off with a single and Stampfl reached base on a fielding error. One out later, Chris Archer supplied a sacrifice fly.

The Ospreys, who have never failed to reach the playoffs, dropped to 17-16, but weren’t about to panic.

“Anybody can go on a tear and anybody can go in the tank,” Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello said before Sunday’s games. “It’s baseball, you know what it is. It’s a grind. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Baumann said: “It’s just one of those days, you know. We’re going to put this game behind us. I mean, the best thing when you lose like this is to pretend it never happened.”

In the meantime, the Ospreys expect a smooth landing — in the playoffs.

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Photo caption: North Fork’s Alex Baumann scores on a sacrifice fly hit by Chris Archer in the sixth inning of the first game of the doubleheader against Westhampton. (Credit: Bill Landon)