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Baseball: Ospreys scratch out hits, first win

It’s hard for a baseball team to win when it’s not hitting. The North Fork Ospreys finally did something about that Monday.

After going winless through their first seven games of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League season, Game No. 8 was a welcomed hit for the Ospreys.

By scrapping together six hits and benefitting from a fine start by Austin Smith, the Ospreys scratched out their first win of the year, 3-2 over the Riverhead Tomcats Monday at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton.

It was soothing relief for the Ospreys (1-6-1), who had entered the game with a league-worst .164 team batting average.

“I’m just happy to get a win,” Ospreys coach Bill Ianniciello said. “After six losses and a tie, we needed a win. We’ve been playing good baseball. We just haven’t hit.”

Not that Monday’s game saw an avalanche of offense, because it wasn’t, but the Ospreys managed to put up a pair of big hits when they really counted. That was in the eighth inning when the Ospreys scored all of their runs. Brad Malm drove a stand-up double and J.C. Santini socked a two-run double that made it 3-1. In between those hits was Steele Netterville’s sacrifice fly, scoring Malm.

Offense hadn’t been a problem for the Tomcats (3-2-1), who scored 21 runs Sunday as they swept a doubleheader from the Southampton Breakers. Entering Monday’s action, three Tomcats ranked second, third and fourth in the league in batting average — Alex Baratta (.563), Luke Oliphant (.467) and Eduardo Malinowski (.444).

The Tomcats didn’t go down easily Monday. In the ninth, Matt Daller reached base on a check-swing infield single. A fielding error with two outs enabled Daller to score, but Nicholas Lucchese was caught in a 6-3-4 putout to end the game.

Regardless of the league or level, losing stings.

“More than anything,” said Smith, whose first pitching start in four years was a fine piece of work. Smith allowed two hits and one walk while striking out seven over six innings.

“Austin threw a great game,” Ianniciello said. “Austin was dealing it. He was very sharp.”

For all of that, Smith was on the hook for a loss, thanks to the only walk he allowed. That was to Trevor Fagan, who later scored on Daller’s sacrifice fly in the sixth.

David Wylie was the beneficiary of North Fork’s offensive burst in the eighth. He hurled three innings of two-hit ball for the win.

Smith sat out this past college season because he had transferred from one Division I school to another, going from the University of Illinois at Chicago to Lamar University in Texas.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to come out here and do my part,” said Smith, a reliever normally who had received word via text message Sunday at 11 p.m. that he would receive the starting assignment. “I like starting because I can fall into a routine. I can find a groove and ride it out.”

It hasn’t been easy for North Fork’s hitters to find a groove this young season, although designated hitter Sean Hogan raised his batting average to .391 with a pair of singles.

“You got guys who have not had a lot of at-bats at school,” Ianniciello said. “You got guys adjusting to the wood bat. In the Hamptons League I’ve found pitching is usually ahead [of hitting] early on.”

Hitting with a wooden bat is a change for many players.

“It is a big adjustment,” Oliphant said. “I know a lot of guys, they like hitting with metal better than wood.”

Smith said: “It takes time for guys to get into a rhythm early in the season. I think as the season rolls on, you know, hitters start to see a little more pitching and I feel like it may be a little more difficult for the pitchers towards the end of the season, so it ends up finding a balance.”

The Tomcats’ new coach, John Galanoudis, likes what he has seen from his club so far.

“We’re still trying to figure out exactly what we have, but so far we have seen good things,” he said. “I think we have the potential to be very, very good this summer. We have a lot of talent.”

Five players in the North Fork lineup Monday finished the day with batting averages of .111 or lower. But Ianniciello sounded sure things will change for the better in that department. He said, “We’re going to hit.”

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Photo caption: North Fork’s Connor Stanton slides in for a triple, beating the throw to Riverhead third baseman Nicholas Lucchese in the ninth inning. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)