It took the first half of the season, but a team in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League has finally emerged as a possible league champion.
After many teams in the league played .500 baseball for the first few weeks of the season, the Center Moriches Battlecats have taken things into their own hands. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games, as of Monday morning, and are 16-9 overall. They hold a two-game lead over the second-place Westhampton Aviators and a six-game lead over the last-place North Forth Ospreys. The top four teams in the league make the postseason.
The Sag Harbor Whalers got through what may have been their toughest part of their schedule, with eight games in nine days, and came out in pretty good shape. Sag Harbor won four of its games last week and is now 14-13, tied for third place with the Riverhead Tomcats, who have an identical record.
“It was definitely a stretch where it was make-or-break for us,” Whalers manager Brenden Monaghan said. “We pitched and caught the ball better than we had all summer. And we had some big innings to help us win games. But, as a whole, it was our pitching and defense that led us.”
Monaghan said his team’s victory on the Fourth of July stands out to him. Down a run after seven innings of play, Sag Harbor exploded for six runs in the top of the ninth to grab the 9-4 victory at Shelter Island. The big hit in the inning was a one-out grand slam by Dan Shea (Monmouth), his first home run of the season. Pierson graduate Brandon Kruel (C.W. Post) got the win, pitching three innings in relief. He allowed one unearned run on one hit.
With just 13 games remaining on the Whalers’ schedule, Monaghan is hoping his team can play above .500 the rest of the way. “I can’t even start thinking about playoffs yet,” he said. “There is so much movement within the standings. I mean, we jumped up three games this week, and it seems like Center Moriches has separated themselves, but it seems like no one is that much better than anyone else. We just need to avoid a big losing streak.
“I don’t want to play .500 ball,” he added. “If we could go 6-4 in a 10-game stretch, I think we’ll be in a pretty good shape.”
Following a managerial change, the Westhampton Aviators swept the Riverhead Tomcats in a doubleheader at Riverhead High School on Sunday, giving new manager Lou Bernardi his first two victories of the summer. Bernardi took over the team for T.J. Baxter, who was dismissed earlier last week.
The Aviators defeated the Tomcats, 7-5, in game one, then took the nightcap, 5-2.
“The first one is always the hardest when you’re taking over a team,” Bernardi said. “To get two on the first day is always a good thing.”
Westhampton put up five runs in the second inning in the first game on Sunday, then scored a run in both the fifth and sixth innings to extend its lead. Starting pitcher Kyle Raleigh (Ball State) pitched well through five innings, allowing just one earned run, but faltered a bit in the sixth, when Riverhead scored three runs. Joey Havrilak (Akron), Ryan Spaulding (Ball State) and Rick Alessi (University of Tampa) all drove in two runs each.
In game two, with the game tied at 2-2, the Aviators rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh on errors by the Tomcats to win the game. J.C. Brandmaier (Dowling) hit his fourth home run of the season in the game. Kyle Schwartz (Arkansas-Pine Bluff) allowed just two runs in five innings, then Max Herrmann (Rhode Island) came in and pitched two scoreless innings of relief.
The Aviators’ bullpen has been a strength all season long, and Bernardi, who was the team’s pitching coach before being promoted to manager last week, said he’s noticed. “They have to perform as players, but knowing when to put guys in a certain situation, that’s half the battle,” he said. “As long as they’re being used the right way, they should have success in this league.”
The Aviators have been playing well recently, having won seven of their last 10 games. With 15 games remaining, Bernardi just wants his team to play hard the rest of the way.
“Our pitching has definitely kept us in the majority of our ball games, and that’s definitely a pretty good recipe for us,” he said. “We just need to play hard for the rest of the season and make a strong run toward the playoffs.”
The Southampton Breakers (11-15) find themselves in second-to-last place as of Monday morning, but after a rough start to last week, they have won their last two games, and manager Rob Cafiero is hoping it’s a sign of things to come.
Southampton was victorious, 1-0, at home against Shelter Island on Saturday, and won, 8-4, at Sag Harbor on Sunday.
“The last two days, we’ve had good pitching with good hitting—hopefully, that’ll get us on the right track for the rest of the season,” Cafiero said.
Max Almonte (Villanova) threw a one-hitter in the victory over Shelter Island last week. The lone hit came in the seventh inning, when Almonte had to pitch himself out of a bases-loaded jam. He walked four batters and struck out eight in the game, and fanned Shelter Island’s Justin Jones to end the game. Jonathan Ramos (Evansville) scored the only run of the game in the second inning on a single by Grant Diede (California).
Southampton exploded for seven runs in the game’s final three innings on Sunday in the win at Sag Harbor. Seven of the nine batters in the lineup for Southampton drove in a run. Diede went 3 for 3 with a walk and two runs scored.
Ryan McCormick (St. John’s) was placed on the disabled list because of shoulder tendinitis and replaced with T.J. Pecoraro (Vanderbilt), who graduated from Half Hollow Hills West in Dix Hills three years ago.