08/07/12 8:00pm
08/07/2012 8:00 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Joe Forney pitched three innings of relief for Riverhead in Game 2 of the Hampton Division finals against Southampton.

I have to admit that when I first heard about this idea of forming a summer league for college baseball players from throughout the country who would spend their vacation months on eastern Long Island, living with host families and playing in what would be a showcase league for pro scouts, I was skeptical. And it was more than just the skepticism that seems to be inherent in journalists. My skepticism was based on past experience.

I had heard and written about similar things in the past, grand plans that never went beyond the drawing board. Anyone, you see, can come up with a good idea. Turning that idea into reality, now that’s the trick.

In my defense, though, when I first heard about this concept six years ago, I wasn’t fully aware of just how determined a person Rusty Leaver is.

I have since learned that Leaver, the cowboy-hat-wearing owner and operator of Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk, is someone who makes things happen. Leaver’s vision was to model a league after the famed Cape Cod Baseball League, giving college players a place to play in the summer as well as gain exposure to pro scouts.

Leaver founded Hamptons Collegiate Baseball in 2007 with one franchise, the Hampton Whalers, who reached the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League final that year.

Four new franchises, including the North Fork Ospreys and the Riverhead Tomcats, joined HCB in 2009, competing in the Kaiser Division. One of those new teams, the Westhampton Aviators, won the ACBL title. The following year it was the Ospreys who took the league crown.

With the addition this year of two expansion clubs, the Center Moriches Battlecats and the Shelter Island Bucks, HCB grew to seven teams, forming the ACBL’s Hampton Division.

In its time, HCB has seen 17 of its players drafted, including former Ospreys player Andrew Cain (the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011 and the San Francisco Giants in 2012) and former Tomcats Justin Echevarria (the San Diego Padres in 2010) and Nick Tropeano (the Houston Astros in 2011). HCB has sent 12 other players into the professional ranks where they have been able to pursue their dream of playing in the big leagues. The ACBL, which calls itself the “gateway to professional baseball,” is partially funded by Major League Baseball.

In addition to giving players the opportunity to chase their dreams, HCB has also provided what it calls free, family entertainment. For those accustomed to watching high school baseball, say, the college level is a real eye-opener. My first real taste of the HCB came in 2008 when I watched an exhibition game between the Hampton Whalers and the Long Island Battlecats. The players made an impression on me before the first pitch was thrown. During pregame practice, I saw a player catch a ball deep in the outfield and then fire the ball home. The throw was a laser that popped into the catcher’s glove on the fly, a perfect strike.

“Wow!” I thought to myself. “These guys are good.”

And they are. They surely have a gift, being able to do what 99.9 percent of us cannot do.

I would judge HCB to be a clear success. The biggest challenge, it seems, for the teams is finding housing for players, but things seem to have worked out on the field and off.

It’s a compact schedule, a 40-game regular season followed by the playoffs. I have sometimes wondered whether the 40-game playing schedule is too demanding of the players. Six game a week isn’t easy. Wouldn’t it be O.K. to make it five-game week instead, giving the players another day off to enjoy themselves? One player told me that the busy schedule is just what he wanted. Then a coach pointed out that the crowded schedule is by design, to give players a feel for what a professional player has to go through.

That makes sense.

From a competitive standpoint, the season that concluded on Sunday was a home run. The top five teams in the Hampton Division finished within three games of each other. Brett Mauser, HCB’s busy president and director of recruiting, deserves credit for that.

The playoffs brought surprises, with the No. 3 seeded Southampton Breakers and the No. 4 Tomcats pulling off upsets to reach the division finals, which the Breakers swept in two games last week.

“The top five or six clubs on a given day, with the right pitching, the right hitting, anyone can win it. That’s what’s great about it,” Tomcats coach Randy Caden said. “Seedings mean nothing. You just want to make it to the playoffs because then it’s a new season.”

And now we can begin looking forward to another one in 2013.

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08/06/12 3:30pm
08/06/2012 3:30 PM

GARRETT MEADE FILE PHOTO | Shaun Hansen in his high school playing days.

Shaun Hansen might be the perfect example of the big fish-little pond syndrome.

During his high school playing days for the former combined Southold/Greenport baseball team and then Southold and Greenport separately, Hansen was a dominant force as both a hitter and a pitcher. He was a monster at the plate who hit for power and average. As a pitcher, he routinely fired fastballs past overmatched batters.

Then again, that was then, in the small pond of high school baseball on eastern Long Island. The present situation is quite different for Hansen. At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 205 pounds, Hansen is a sizable speciman, but he is no longer a big fish. For one thing, he’s no longer playing in the proverbial little pond. He is in a much larger pool now. As Hansen has found, college baseball is a whole new ball game.

Hansen learned early on in his freshman season at Suffolk County Community College that he needed to adjust to a higher level, not to mention a new position: third base.

“It was a lot different than high school, a lot more intense, but I like that,” Hansen said. “Everyone is an all star. I would go out there and I would play terrible the first couple of games. I would be like: ‘Wow, I need to go to the gym. I need to do something different to help me get better. I need to get in the cage more. I need to do this and that.’ It made me want to do better, want to work harder to get better.”

In continuance of that pursuit, Hansen played for the Riverhead Tomcats in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League this summer. He played first base, took some swings as a designated hitter and pitched some.

Hansen came off the bench in a pinch-hitting role last Thursday to line a single over third baseman Bobby Geren in the ninth inning of a 12-4 loss to the Southampton Breakers in Game 2 of the Hampton Division finals. The victory brought the Breakers their first division championship.

But Hansen, who throws and bats right-handed, had difficulty with a back injury earlier this summer. “They found out that my vertebrae has actually shifted a little bit so it’s pinching my muscle,” he said. “They stretched me out and I guess they popped it back into place.”

The back trouble didn’t help Hansen’s numbers with the Tomcats. He batted .077 (3 for 39) during the regular season with two runs batted in. As a pitcher, he went 1-2 with a 13.50 earned run average. In the nine and one-third innings he pitched, he issued 10 walks against nine strikeouts.

Of course, the other side to this is the quality of the competition he faced in the ACBL, which draws college players from various parts of the country.

“Playing in this league, it’s a little overwhelming at first,” said Hansen. He added: “Really, when I came here, I just wanted to get the experience. I wanted to play against good competition. Even if I did poorly, either way it’s a good experience. It is summer ball. It really doesn’t mean much. It’s just about getting better. It’s what the league is about, developing players.”

Riverhead coach Randy Caden said Hansen has the size and strength to be a good player. “I think he has the ability, he just doesn’t believe in himself yet,” Caden said. “It’s a confidence thing with him. … He’s never played on this level, as most kids haven’t. It’s a new challenge. I try to tell him, ‘It will come; it will come.’ But that’s the thing, as you go up, the competition gets tougher.”

Hansen was in for a surprise this past college season at Suffolk when he was asked to play third base, a position he had little experience at, to fill a team need. He also pitched for the Sharks. Hansen, whose father Brian coached the North Fork Ospreys last year, said he would like to play for a four-year school after completing his sophomore year at Suffolk.

While Hansen may like to reminisce about his high school playing days occasionally, he knows they are done and over with.

“In high school I could throw a fastball right down the middle and usually two out of three times they’re not going to hit it,” he said, “but if I throw one down here, someone’s going to take it out of the park easily.”

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07/25/12 10:00pm
07/25/2012 10:00 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Since adopting a side-armed delivery, North Fork reliever Mike Czenszak has added velocity and more movement to his pitches.

Every now and then, someone will approach Mike Czenszak, one of the pitchers in the North Fork Ospreys bullpen, with a question like, “So, what do you got?” To be clear, the question doesn’t refer to Czenszak’s pitching sharpness or his repertoire of pitches. No, the hungry questioner is more concerned with what sort of snacks Czenszak has to offer.

And thus the nickname, “Snacks.”

Czenszak earned that moniker during his first season with the Ospreys three years ago when he got into the habit of bringing snacks to games for his colleagues in the bullpen to munch on. “I always brought out a whole bunch of snacks, Cheese-Its, packets of things,” he said. “They always looked forward to me having something, Skittles, Starbursts. It was just a joke that caught on because I always left the house with something in my hand.”

The nickname has stuck, as has Czenszak, the only player in his third year with the Ospreys and their only remaining player from the squad that won the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League championship in 2010.

“Snacks” has been a treat for the Ospreys. Through Tuesday’s games, the reliever held a 3-0 record with a 4.21 earned run average and a team-leading four saves. He issued five walks against 29 strikeouts.

The North Fork is truly a home away from home for Czenszak, who grew up in Downingtown, Penn. His family has owned a beach house in Mattituck going back to the late 1960s, and Czenszak continues to spend his summers there with his parents, Terri and Robert.

That is one reason why Czenszak has chosen to remain with the Ospreys rather than take an opportunity this summer to play for the New Bedford (Mass.) Bay Sox in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Another reason is his affinity for this area.

“It’s awesome out here,” he said. “I just wanted to enjoy something that I’m used to out here with the water and fishing. There’s so much to do out here that’s a lot of fun.”

Czenszak’s appreciation for his surroundings also had something to do with his college selection. Florida Southern was the only southern school among the 17 colleges that Czenszak applied to. The campus is regarded as one of the most attractive in the country.

A non-scholarship player for the NCAA Division II team, Czenszak is coming off his best season for Florida Southern. The right-hander adopted a side-armed delivery this past spring, and it paid immediate dividends with a junior season that saw him go 1-1, with a 3.10 earned run average in 20 1/3 innings as a middle reliever. He said he added a few miles per hour to his fastball, which has been clocked at 88 miles per hour. Czenszak, whose right arm is double jointed, has also seen added movement on his pitches, which includes a slider, a circle changeup and a two-seam fastball.

“It’s actually worked out much better than over the top for me,” he said of the side-armed approach.

North Fork coach Bill Ianniciello has noticed the difficulty Czenszak presents to batters. “He’s tough on righties and lefties,” Ianniciello said. “He’s got movement both ways.”

The Ospreys have used Czenszak in various roles, including once as a starter.

“He’s basically done whatever I’ve asked him to do, and he’s done it well,” Ianniciello said. “You feel good with him having the ball when the game is on the line.”

Like many players in the league, Czenszak has aspirations to play professionally after college. “I hope to continue living the dream,” he said. He already has a major-league connection in his family. His cousin, Jason Grilli, pitches for the Pittsburgh Pirates. An uncle, Steve Grilli, played for the Detroit Tigers in the 1970s and was a major league scout for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Czenszak has already pitched against major league batters. Florida Southern usually plays the Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles in spring-training games. Czenszak has pitched against players like Victor Martinez and Magglio Ordòñez. “You get to cherish those memories for a lifetime,” he said.

Three-year veterans are rare in the ACBL. Rarer yet are players like Czenszak, who has played for three Ospreys coaches in as many years: Shawn Epidendio, Brian Hansen and Ianniciello.

Czenszak remembers what it felt like to be an ACBL champion and he wants to experience that again.

“I hope we can bring home that trophy again back to the Osprey nation,” he said. “It was the greatest feeling winning that thing, and to do that again would be an honor.”

Meanwhile, Czenszak continues to deal pitches — and snacks.

“I think the most popular has been Cheese-Its,” Czenszak said. “That’s been a steady go. They’re so addictive for some reason. They’re a crowd-pleaser.”

So is the Ospreys reliever.

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07/24/12 9:03pm
07/24/2012 9:03 PM

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.

AVIATORS 7, OSPREYS 1; AVIATORS 4, OSPREYS 3

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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07/21/12 11:02pm
07/21/2012 11:02 PM

OSPREYS 10, WHALERS 1

Defense and pitching. Bill Ianniciello is big on both of them.

Not that the North Fork Ospreys coach didn’t appreciate seeing his team knock four balls over the outfield fence for home runs on Saturday night, but it was the defense, especially, that caught his eye in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League game against the Sag Harbor Whalers. Ianniciello took special delight in a sixth-inning double play made possible by his talented shortstop, Alex Perez. With a runner on first base, Dennis Mitchell bounced a grounder that the smooth-fielding Perez got to before initiating the double play. Score it 6-4-3.

“He made a good pick going to his right, and then he made a good turn,” Ianniciello said. “I love that stuff.”

Then again, there was a lot for the Ospreys to love about their 10-1 win at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. Robb Paller drove in four runs and delivered one of the four home runs struck by the Ospreys (20-12). The Ospreys also received homers from Kyle Adie, Dan Kerr and Ryan Burns. Those four homers accounted for seven of North Fork’s 10 runs. Paller and Perez led North Fork’s 12-hit parade with three hits each.

Meanwhile, Vaughn Hayward turned in a winning pitching performance, going six innings while allowing three hits and one unearned run. Hayward picked up three of his seven strikeouts in the fifth inning when he struck out the side.

But the fielding had to make Ianniciello smile. The Ospreys could jot down some stars in the scorebook next to a few plays they made in the field. One of them was Anthony Aceto’s diving grab of a ball hit by Collin Williams for the third out in the second, leaving the bases loaded. Another was center fielder Kyle Adie’s fine sprawling catch of a fly ball from J. J. Franco for the game’s penultimate out.

The Ospreys looked sharp.

“We played terrific,” said Hayward.

The Hampton Division leaders, who started the day one game ahead of the second-place Shelter Island Bucks, want to be sharp, too. The regular season is making its final turn before hitting the final stretch.

Finishing in first place would be nice for the Ospreys, no doubt, but like many coaches, Ianniciello would rather his team not look too far ahead and focus on the immediate task at hand.

“You know what baseball is, it’s a grind,” he said. “You can’t start thinking too far ahead. Once you start thinking about tomorrow, today doesn’t go well.”

Saturday night went more than well for the Ospreys, starting in the first inning. Within a span of four pitches, Adie and Kerr socked back-to-back home runs for a 2-0 lead.

As it turned out, those were the only runs the Ospreys needed, thanks to the pitching of Hayward, who was ably followed on the mound by Jared Weed, Meindl and Ryan Calby.

The Whalers (12-24) managed their only run in the third. Grant Shambley doubled before heading to third base on a wild pitch. An errant throw on the play allowed him to score.

Paller chopped a run-scoring single up the middle in the fifth to restore the two-run lead.

Sag Harbor’s starting pitcher, Jim Duff, didn’t have a bad outing, striking out eight over five innings. After he made his exit, though, the Ospreys went to work in the sixth. Vinny Citro shot a double to left field, scoring a run, and then Paller followed up with a three-run blast over the right-field fence, making the score 7-1.

“We gave Vaughn way more than he even needed,” said Paller.

Adie scored on a wild pitch in the seventh, and Burns clocked a two-run homer in the eighth to complete the scoring.

“It’s much easier when your team backs you up,” Hayward said. “They made the plays today. We threw up a 10 spot. It makes the pitching that much easier when you have a cushion. So, you just throw strikes, and good things will happen.”

And the presence of a shortstop like Perez helps a lot, too.

“We lost, I think, four games when Perez was away,” Ianniciello said. “You see, he makes a play coming in on the grass that probably nobody in the league makes. He’s a pro-caliber shortstop. It’s a pleasure to watch.”

The other facets of the Ospreys’ game have been easy on the eyes, too.

“We’re putting it together,” Hayward said. “When you’re having fun, everything just falls into place.”

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07/17/12 1:00pm
07/17/2012 1:00 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Tim Panetta has been hitting well for North Fork. Through Monday’s games, he led the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League with a .753 slugging percentage.

Everyone used to be a shortstop, or a pitcher.

That’s the inside joke on the North Fork Ospreys, and for good reason. Not surprisingly, the best athletes on Little League teams usually play shortstop or pitcher. By the time they advance to the collegiate level, though, many of them branch out to different positions, like Tim Panetta did.

Panetta, the Ospreys catcher, is a relative latecomer to the position. Seeing more of a future for himself as a catcher, he made the move from shortstop to catcher as a freshman at Fox Lane High School in Mount Kisco in Westchester County. In retrospect, Panetta figures he saved some wear and tear on his knees by not having committed himself to catching earlier.

Catching isn’t easy. Ospreys coach Bill Ianniciello described playing the position as “grueling.” For good reason, too. Catchers routinely get beat up by foul balls, take shots to the head occasionally from back swings, and are sometimes involved in home-plate collisions. It’s hazardous work, but it’s all part of the position, and one reason why catchers aren’t expected to produce much offense.

Well, apparently no one told that to Panetta, whose bat work this summer has been exceptional. Through 30 games (21 of which he played and started), Panetta had a .377 batting average, a team-leading seven home runs and was tied with Anthony Aceto and Ryan Solberg for the team lead in runs batted in with 20.

“No complaints,” Panetta said. “No complaints.”

What’s to complain about?

In statistics through Monday’s games, Panetta led the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League with a .753 slugging percentage and was tied for fifth with six other players among the league’s home-run leaders.

Not only has Panetta been hitting for average, but he’s been hitting for power. Plus, defensively, he had a .995 fielding percentage and one error.

“He’s been a big lift to the team,” Ianniciello said. “He’s been one of the kids who got added late to the roster, and he’s been a huge plus.”

What has been Panetta’s secret?

“The transition from metal to wood, it’s a little difficult, but the power is just getting solid contact, and I guess the balls are just traveling, which is good,” he said. “I’m not trying to hit for power or average. I’m just trying to shorten my swing, put the ball in play whenever I can, and if I get a hit, I get a hit. If not,” so be it.

The 6-foot, 200-pound Panetta joined the Ospreys after a successful season at SUNY/Cortland where he hit .327 with no home runs and 20 RBI. But there is a difference going from the metal bats he used in college to the wood bats of the ACBL, where cheap hits aren’t easy to come by and contact with the meat of the bat is more critical. Panetta had experience taking cuts with wood last summer when he played for the Sanford Mainers in Maine in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He faced difficulty, hitting .188 with one home run and eight RBI, striking out 27 times in 69 at-bats. Panetta said he didn’t know what to expect when he joined the Ospreys.

“The New England Collegiate Baseball League is very tough,” he said. “You know, I struggled a little bit. They have some deep fields and some good pitching, so I didn’t know what this league was going to be like. There’s still a ton of great pitchers that you’ll see. They’ll get us more than half of the time.”

Ianniciello said he knew he was getting a good hitter in Panetta. The coach has been able to keep Panetta’s bat in the lineup on days when Mark Brennan catches by making Panetta the designated hitter.

“A lot of coaches say if you can hit with wood, you can hit with metal,” Panetta said, “so at least from a confidence standpoint, it’s given me a good starting point for next fall and a good, strong positive feeling.”

Panetta, who transferred to SUNY/Cortland from Connecticut, where he had red-shirted, will be a senior academically this fall, but he has two years of college baseball eligibility left. Like many others, he has a dream of one day playing professionally.

For all of the big numbers he has been putting up this summer, Panetta said he is best at receiving and blocking pitches. Defense remains a priority for him. “Everyone needs a defensive catcher,” he said. “If you can hit, it’s a bonus.”

For all the aches and pains that come with the position, Panetta said he never second-guesses his switch to catcher.

“I made the move and I stuck with it through the ups and downs,” he said. “It turned out to be a good decision.”

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07/13/12 8:48pm
07/13/2012 8:48 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork’s Eric Romano, connecting on a pitch from Center Moriches’ Jason Schilling, enjoyed a three-hit game.

OSPREYS 17, BATTLECATS 5 (8 INNINGS)

Friday the 13th was going to be bad news for somebody, not the North Fork Ospreys, though.

The Center Moriches Battlecats, on the other hand, will shudder at the memory of what transpired on their own Paul Gibson Field on Friday. Three-run homers by Robert Paller and Ryan Solberg during a seven-run second inning launched the Ospreys to a 17-5 trouncing of the Battlecats. The Ospreys (17-11) produced 20 hits in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League game, and that was with the contest stopped after eight innings because of darkness.

“We were on fire today, that’s for sure,” said Solberg, the designated hitter.

Paller finished the game with four runs batted in. The Ospreys catcher, Tim Panetta, continued swinging a hot bat. He went 4 for 5 with three runs scored, an RBI, a double and a walk. Solberg and Eric Romano had three hits each. All nine Ospreys batters had at least one hit, and seven Ospreys had more than one against four Center Moriches pitchers.

“It’s interesting,” Paller said. “We seem to put up very little runs or a lot of runs. Top to bottom and guys off the bench, they can all swing it.”

After three straight losses dislodged the Ospreys from first place in the Hampton Division, they won their third straight with Friday’s result. It was the fourth time they have beaten the Battlecats in as many games this season.

It was the fourth straight loss for the Battlecats (14-14), who have given up 53 runs during that run, which includes a 15-5 loss to the Ospreys on Wednesday night.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Robert Paller drove in four runs, three of them on a home-run swing in the second inning.

When it was suggested to Center Moriches coach Bill Batewell that perhaps his team was running thin on pitching arms, he replied: “I don’t know if we’re thin, maybe we’re tired. Right now I’m disappointed. … Our pitching has been lackluster lately, and we’re not hitting the ball real well.”

He added: “We’ve given up almost 50 runs in the last three games. It’s ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, the Ospreys seemed to be hitting everything in sight.

It all started with Run No. 1 in the first inning. Paller set the tone, opening the game by knocking a stand-up double. He stole third base and then scored when the catcher’s throw flew past the third baseman.

But the really big inning was the second. After the Ospreys loaded the bases through a Ryan Burns double, a broken-bat infield single by Romano and a walk by Vinny Citro, a balk brought home Burns. Then Paller cleared the bases with his home run over right field. Shortly after that Panetta doubled and Dan Kerr drew a walk, setting the table for Solberg, who crushed a 2-2 pitch well beyond the left-field fence.

Just like that, it was 8-0. Center Moriches’ No. 5 batter, Michael Hubbard (three RBI), had not even made his first plate appearance.

It wasn’t the video-game-like numbers that North Fork coach Bill Ianniciello wanted so much as good at-bats, and he saw plenty of those.

“We’re not looking for big numbers, we’re just looking to win games and get some quality at-bats, so I’m not counting numbers,” he said. “I like the kid leading off the game with an aggressive double and then stealing third base and taking a run there. That was as big to me as anything.”

The Battlecats managed only four hits off pitchers Vaughn Hayward and Ryan Calby. Hayward gave up three hits over the four innings he worked before being relieved. Calby, a left-hander making his Ospreys debut, pitched the remaining four innings, during which he allowed one hit and one run. He retired the first 10 batters he faced, fanning two of them.

Injuries to pitchers contributed to North Fork’s recent three-game losing streak, so the addition of Calby was welcomed.

“We struggled a little bit having some injuries with our pitchers,” Paller said, “but we got some reinforcements and the hitters are picking up the pitchers right now, and it’s leading to Ws.”

Yes, it was Friday the 13th, but there was more to the Battlecats’ loss than superstition. The Ospreys’ bats had an awful lot to do with it.

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07/01/12 7:09pm
07/01/2012 7:09 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Ryan Solberg, right, receiving congratulations from North Fork teammate Anthony Aceto after clubbing a home run in the 13th inning.

OSPREYS 4, TOMCATS 3 (14 INNINGS)

Some “late-inning lightning” helped the North Fork Ospreys win a suspended game against the Riverhead Tomcats before real lightning led to the postponement of a regularly scheduled game between the two Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League teams on Sunday.

It was only fitting that a strange play should decide the resumption of a suspended game on a strange day. Alex Perez scored from second base following an unsuccessful pickoff attempt in the 14th inning to give the Ospreys the tie-breaking run in a 4-3 triumph over the Tomcats in Riverhead. The first 12 innings of the game were played on June 5 before the contest was suspended because of darkness with the score tied at 2-2.

Perez led off the 14th by dropping a single into left field. After Tomcats pitcher Matt Facendo retired the next two batters, Perez stole second base. Then a pickoff attempt at second base sailed high into the outfield and the ball skipped past the center fielder, allowing Perez to race all the way home.

Ospreys reliever Mike Czenszak gave up a two-out single by Austin Barrois and then a walk to Bryan Palermo before getting Josh Smith to pop up to the shortstop, Perez, for the game-ending out.

After that game, though, players, coaches, umpires and spectators spent more time watching the sky than watching baseball as growling thunder was soon followed by lightning and rain. The regularly scheduled game was halted with one out in the bottom of the first inning and later postponed. Neither team had scored. A makeup date has not been determined.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead pitcher Jonathan Cohen preparing a delivery.

“It was just good that we didn’t come out here for nothing and we got one win out of it,” said Ospreys center fielder Kyle Adie.

A white cloud could be found among the thunder clouds. The postponement provided needed rest for weary pitching arms.

“It was definitely a more positive day than a negative day,” Ospreys third baseman Darrin Standish said. He explained: “Today we were pretty nervous about our pitching. We wanted to see how far [starting pitcher Mike] Tamburino could go, and we were looking for position players [to pitch] after that.”

The two innings of baseball that were played were eventful.

On the first at-bat of the day, the hot-swinging Ryan Solberg led off the 13th by socking a home run to left field for the Ospreys (12-6).

“I thought for sure we had that game won after Ryan hit that home run, and then they came back and they wanted it, too,” said Standish.

Indeed, the Tomcats (9-7) bounced back in their half of the inning, tying it at 3-3. Josh Smith led off with a bunt single. A wild pitch and a groundout moved him to third base before James Luppens rapped a double to the right-field fence, evening the score again.

Some players had as many as seven at-bats in the 14-inning game. Solberg and Perez were the only Ospreys with two hits each.

Josh Smith was responsible for half of Riverhead’s hits, going 4 for 7 with a double and scoring twice. Luppens added two hits.

It was an odd day for the players. Tomcats left fielder Andrew Gorecki likened it to a short practice. “You get your throwing in, you get your B.P. in, and then that’s it,” he said. “You go home.”

Barrois said completing the suspended game had an odd feel, sort of like starting a game and then finishing it without a middle.

“It’s kind of like jumping into the beginning of a game, but then kind of having the emotions of the end of a game,” he said.

While lightning may unnerve some people, it’s more of an annoyance to players like Gorecki.

“It’s stressful,” he said. “Once they call the lightning strike, we know it’s a half-hour [wait before possibly returning to the field]. The down time hurts you.”

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08/04/11 11:49pm
08/04/2011 11:49 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork pitcher Nick Narodowy and Westhampton's Joe Candela collided at the plate after Candela scored on a wild pitch in the third inning.

The Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League season is like an arms race. The team with the most arms at the end of the season wins.

This year, in the Hampton Division at least, that team is the Westhampton Aviators.

Like an army that travels on its stomach, a baseball team goes as far as its arms will take it. In the case of the Aviators, their arms have brought them their second division championship in three years.

“We got a lot of fresh arms,” Aviators Coach Jeff Quiros said. “This time of year, some teams, they get worn down and tired. Our guys are chomping at the bit to get in there. It’s about pitching depth in any type of tournament play, and we certainly have that.”

Five scoreless innings of relief from three pitchers and a go-ahead home run by Ray Ortega in the seventh inning helped the Aviators to a 4-3 defeat of the North Fork Ospreys on Thursday night, sweeping the best-of-three finals. The Aviators won the series opener, 6-2, the day before. The Ospreys, last year’s league champions, were playing in the division finals for the third straight year.

Ortega put the Aviators ahead, 4-3, when he opened the seventh by clocking a solo home run that he took an admiring glance at as the ball soared through the night air at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic.

Ryan Doran pitched the first four innings for the Aviators before Quiros handed the ball, in order, to Kevin Lee, Mike Ahmed and Brandon Kuter.

Kuter notched the save, but not without an uneasy moment. Ian Vazquez led off the ninth for the Ospreys with a single. Kuter struck out the next batter before Ryan Brockett jumped on a pitch and curled a foul ball that missed the left foul pole by several feet.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Rocco Gondek watched the flight of his two-run homer, which gave North Fork a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning.

“My heart stopped on that Brockett fly,” said Quiros.

Kuter then fanned Brockett as well as Matt Carroll, setting off a joyous celebration for the Aviators, who piled on top of each with gusto between the batter’s box and the pitcher’s mound.

“That’s what it’s about,” Quiros said. “I told these guys on June 1st, it’s about a dogpile. That’s what you’re playing the game for. You want to win a championship.”

The Aviators, who won the division’s regular-season title, advance to a league semifinal on the road Saturday against the Staten Island Tide, with a chance to play in the league final on Sunday.

“This was our goal the whole year,” said left fielder Joe Candela, who knocked in two runs for the Aviators. “We’re so happy, couldn’t be happier.”

Westhampton’s bullpen allowed only two hits — a well-placed bunt by Brockett and Vazquez’ single — over the final five innings, and accounted for 11 of the team’s 18 strikeouts.

“We didn’t have the pitching power to get the job done,” said Brian Hansen, who coaches the Ospreys along with Michiel Van Kampen. “Pitching’s almost everything, and they obviously had a solid set of relievers that came in and shut the door on us.”

That is not to say that Nick Narodowy didn’t turn in a quality pitching performance for the Ospreys, because he did. The left-hander posted 13 strikeouts against six hits and one walk in eight-plus innings before he was pulled after his 121st pitch.

Narodowy received some early run support. A mighty drive by Carroll to deep center field took one bounce and shot off the fence for a double, allowing the speedy Brockett to score the game’s first run from first base in the first inning.

A wild pitch allowed the Aviators to pull even at 1-1 when Candela dove home in the third. Candela had reached base on an infield single. An errant pickoff attempt and a groundout brought Candela to third base.

The Ospreys took a 3-1 lead in the fourth with one swing of the bat by Rocco Gondek, who smashed a two-run homer over the left-field fence.

“I love Rocco, and Rocco always comes through somehow and some way he just does something that’s pretty special,” said Hansen.

But the Aviators can hit, too. They banged out four hits in the fifth when consecutive singles by Ortega, Aaron Cohn and Candela were followed by a double that Taylor Mondshein tagged off the left-field fence. Candela’s single inside the left-field line brought in two runs, tying the score at 3-3.

“We just battled,” Quiros said. “Every playoff game has been tight. It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had to work for every out.”

Gondek is the only third-year player on the Ospreys. He returned to the North Fork team this year along with fellow team veterans Brockett, Mike Czenszak and A. J. Dusablon.

“I’m emotionally tired,” Gondek said. “I really wanted to win, but you can’t win them all.”

Hansen knows that, but he still wanted to see the series go to a third game.

“I was just hoping to live to tomorrow, really,” he said, “just hoping to live to tomorrow.”

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08/01/11 7:48pm
08/01/2011 7:48 PM

Those were geese flying over the Southampton baseball field, not ospreys. But make no mistake, the Ospreys were flying, nonetheless.

The North Fork Ospreys turned in an impressive, complete performance to oust the Southampton Breakers in the third and decisive game of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League Hampton Division semifinals. A quality start from pitcher Milan Mantle along with stellar defense and 10 hits worth of offense gave the Ospreys a 7-2 victory on Monday. With that, they advance to the best-of-three division finals for the third year in a row. The first game of that series against the Westhampton Aviators will be on Wednesday afternoon in Westhampton.

“Whenever you put pitching, defense and hitting together, you’re going to win more times than you lose,” said Ospreys center fielder Brendan O’Brien.

The Ospreys did all of the above without arguably their best player, Ryan Brockett, and one of their co-coaches, Michiel Van Kampen. They were both serving a one-game suspension for their ejection from Game 3 the night before. In that game, the Ospreys blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning and lost in 11 innings.

“It was a downer, but we responded great,” said Mantle.

He wasn’t kidding.

Mantle, the Ospreys’ No. 1 starter, relished the prospect of having the ball handed to him for Game 3. “I love these moments,” he said.

He pitched like it, too. In seven and two-thirds innings, the right-hander limited the Breakers to three hits and was charged with two runs. His 110-pitch effort included four walks and six strikeouts.

“I had everything working, kept the ball low in key spots,” said Mantle, who for the record is not related to the late New York Yankees great Mickey Mantle (“I wish I had his bat, that’s for sure,” he said).

Brian Hansen, the Ospreys’ other co-coach, said: “Milan was phenomenal on the mound today. He really shut the door on them.”

And Mantle had some good defense behind him. The Ospreys made plays.

The biggest was undoubtedly a terrific catch by left fielder Andrew Furr that prevented a grand slam and kept a five-run game from becoming a one-run game in the eighth inning. After Brian Monette relieved Mantle with two out and the bases loaded that inning, Brant Whiting slapped a run-scoring single and Andrew Shimkus scored from third base on a wild pitch, making the score 7-2. But it could have been worse for the Ospreys had Furr not robbed Robb Scott of a grand slam, catching the ball with his glove above the fence to end the inning.

“When I hit it, I thought it was gone,” Scott said. “Out of the box I was fired up, and once I saw him catch it, everything went out of me.”

And there was more fancy glove work: Second baseman Cody Perkins made a nice tumbling catch of a fly ball for the third out in the second inning. Ryan Brown snagged a deep drive hit by Steve Harrington while falling over the right-field fence. Shortstop Ian Vazquez turned in a pair of defensive gems, making a flashy leaping grab of a liner hit by Jordan Zech and a great stop on a hard-hit ground ball by James McMahon, who was thrown out on the play. And last, but not least, was Brown’s diving catch of a Taylor Eads fly ball for the first out in the ninth with two runners on base.

“They played phenomenal defense all day,” Scott said. “They just didn’t make mistakes, and that’s what you have to do to win. We still hit the ball hard, they just made all the plays.”

The Ospreys put up three runs in the second inning for an early lead. With a runner on third base, O’Brien struck a slow grounder that neither the third baseman McMahon or the shortstop Scott could come up with. That brought in the first run. Rocco Gondek then connected for a run-scoring double, and later scored himself on a groundout by Darrin Standish.

The gap between the teams widened in the fifth after Breakers pitcher Ryan Phelan issued walks to Standish and Ryan Williams. They were both brought home on a two-out double that Matt Carroll roped to left field, making it 5-0.

But the Ospreys weren’t through scoring. They kept hitting and tacked on two more runs in the sixth. One of them came courtesy of the sun. Perkins socked a stand-up double. He scored when the next batter, O’Brien, skyed a fly ball and left fielder Steve Schrenk lost it in the sun, allowing the ball to fall to the grass. O’Brien himself scored when the first baseman, Harrington, was unable to pull in a tricky popup by Vazquez to shallow right.

Across the board, it was a feel-good day for the Ospreys.

“I think that shows how much our team is together,” O’Brien said. “Nothing’s really going to get in the way of winning.”

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