What amounted to a play-in game for a play-in game has left the North Fork Ospreys out.
Much like the game of musical chairs that was played by youngsters in between innings at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic Friday night, the Ospreys have been left without a place in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League playoffs. For the first time in 10 years, they will not be in the postseason.
Try as they have, the Ospreys have been unable to overcome their shortcomings. That was the case Friday.
Not even an early 5-0 lead was enough for the Ospreys in a must-win game against the Shelter Island Bucks. The Bucks scored 16 unanswered runs to win, 16-5, and clinch their first playoff berth since 2015 and fourth since 2012. In the process, they eliminated the Ospreys from playoff contention.
It has been that kind of a season for the Ospreys (14-21-4). They opened the season with six straight losses and are 2-8-1 in their last 11 games.
Asked before the game if he had words of advice for his players, Ospreys coach Bill Ianniciello answered: “We’re past the advice stage. We should have been competing sooner than tonight, but unfortunately, we haven’t. We haven’t hit all season. We haven’t played good defense lately. We don’t run the bases well.”
“We’ve been undermanned, we’ve lost some guys,” he said. “The guys have worked hard. We just haven’t executed enough.
“It’s too late to feel pressure. Ten games ago we controlled our own destiny. We could have won some games, but we haven’t done that, so to me it has been very disappointing.”
This is the first year the HCBL has expanded the playoffs from four to five teams with the introduction of a wild-card team. Both the Bucks and Ospreys entered Friday’s game tied for fifth place with 32 points. But the Bucks (16-18-2) took the season series, 4-3, and have three games remaining. The Ospreys will play their final game Sunday night at home against the Riverhead Tomcats.
Much of Friday’s blowout was hard for the Ospreys to watch. It must have been hard for them to watch the Bucks’ big slugger, Alex Volpi, break the league’s single-season record with his 14th home run. It must have been hard for them to watch Bucks shortstop Jake MacKenzie become only the second player in league history to have a six-hit game. (MacKenzie went 6-for-6, scored four runs, drove in four runs and recorded his league-leading 32nd stolen base of the season, a Bucks record). It must have been hard for them to watch themselves commit seven errors.
And things had started so promisingly for the Ospreys. Ben Terwilliger produced a grand slam, his sixth homer of the summer, in the first inning and Joe Mercadante made it 5-0 the following inning by hammering his second homer of the season.
But that lead wasn’t safe. Things went south from there for the Ospreys as the Bucks went on to produce 16 hits against three Ospreys pitchers and the defense self-destructed.
The Bucks bounced back in a big way with a six-run third that featured an RBI infield single by Mike Casaleggio and a two-run double roped by MacKenzie.
With the sun setting over the field, it appeared to be setting on the Osprey’ season, too. Volpi set the HCBL record for most homers in a season in the fifth when he slammed a two-run shot. He had tied the mark Aaron Ping of the Westhampton Aviators set in 2016.
David Brehm went 3-for-4 for the Bucks.
The Long Island Road Warriors and Tomcats will hold the top two seeds for the playoffs. The Aviators and Sag Harbor Whalers have also clinched playoff berths.
What was the mindset the Ospreys needed to take into Friday’s game?
“We definitely have to win this game,” outfielder Tyler Shedler-McAvoy said after batting practice. “I think we can’t tense up. We just got to stay loose and play our game, and there’s nothing more you can do. You can’t force things. You just got to play baseball and hope for the best.”
The best evaded the Ospreys — along with the playoffs.
Photo caption: Ben Terwilliger makes contact for his first-inning grand slam that helped North Fork out to an early lead before collapsing against Shelter Island and seeing its playoff hopes extinguished. (Credit: Garret Meade)