The field has been set for the inaugural Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League playoffs, with the top-seeded and regular season champion Sag Harbor Whalers hosting fourth-seeded Center Moriches, and the second-seeded Westhampton Aviators hosting the third-seeded North Fork Ospreys. Both three-game series began on Monday.
The HCBL Championship series, which is also a best-of-three format, is slated to begin Friday at the higher seed’s home location. Look for updates on the games this week on 27east.com.
Sag Harbor won the regular season title on Saturday with a 4-2 victory at Westhampton. Both teams finished with identical 24-16 records, but Sag Harbor won the season series, 4-3, allowing them to take the title.
Saturday afternoon’s game was quiet until the middle innings. Neither team recorded a hit until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Joey Havrilak (Akron) led off with a single, but he was erased when he was thrown out trying to steal second by Sag Harbor catcher Adam Gauthier (Dartmouth) later in the inning.
Westhampton finally got on the board in the bottom of the fifth on a solo home run by Cole Miller (Georgia Tech), his fifth of the summer, but Sag Harbor responded in the sixth. With two outs in the inning, John Palladino smacked a homer, his second of the season, to tie the game.
Following the home run, J.J. Franco (Brown) and James Clements (Georgia State) both singled, then Dan Rizzie (Xavier) belted a three-run shot to give the Whalers a 4-1 lead. J.C. Brandmaier hit his sixth home run of the season in the bottom of the sixth, but that was all the Aviators could muster. Keenan Kolinsky (Vanderbilt), Dan Wertz (Sacred Heart) and Jacob Bodner (Xavier) held the Aviators hitless over the final three innings. Bodner registered his league-record 14th save with a perfect ninth.
Sag Harbor manager Brenden Monaghan said his team was a little torn between celebrating the fact that it won the regular season title but also gearing up for the playoffs this week.
“Anytime you have a chance to win a title, it says something about your team,” he said. “I think it was great for the league that it came down to the last two games of the season to decide the regular season winner. You always want to have a chance to win a title, and now the club has sights on a playoff title. The chance to win both is pretty exciting.”
As for the Aviators, their bullpen, which had been one of their strengths throughout this season, failed to come through against Sag Harbor on Saturday. Kyle Raleigh (Ball State) started the game on the mound and didn’t allow a hit, but since he was slated to pitch game two of the playoffs on Tuesday, he was working on a limited pitch count. So Westhampton manager Lou Bernardi went to Aaron Howell (Fairfield) out of the bullpen. He started off well but wound up getting charged all four runs.
“As expected, the pitching was phenomenal, and defensively, both teams played well,” Bernardi said. “We had one bad inning where we gave up four runs in the sixth, and that was the difference in the ball game.
“All of their runs came with two outs, and from a pitching perspective, you want to shut down an inning when that happens,” he added. “We made one bad pitch, left a pitch up in the zone, and they have good hitters on the other side.”
Both Sag Harbor and Westhampton are now set for the playoffs this week, and both managers have their own thoughts on strategies in a three-game series. Monaghan said winning the first game is vital.
“Would love to win the first one,” he said. “The games will go by quick. We have the home-field advantage, but I don’t put much into it—it’s not much of a factor in a league like this. I would love to win the first game and put the pressure on them.”
Bernardi said he won’t be changing much in terms on how he manages the team, although the starting pitchers may have shorter leashes.
“During the season, we would always break up the week into a series, and you would always want to win that week,” he explained. “Our method, as far as coaching is concerned, was always to win the series and win the week. So nothing has changed.”
The Southampton Breakers, which were Hampton Division champions last year in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, did not have the greatest season in terms of wins and losses, finishing last in the league with a 14-26 record. Manager Rob Cafiero said poor defense, poor relief pitching and a few injuries led to the subpar summer. It was the first season in its three-year history that Southampton didn’t make the playoffs.
“This year was a little disappointing,” he said. “We never really gelled as a team, never put it together. We had some high spots, but there were also a bunch of low spots.”
Cafiero went on to explain that he had two second basemen playing out of position at shortstop and that it hurt the defense. The team also never received a number of players it was supposed to have, due to injuries that happened at the close of the college season.
“Had we won four more games, we would have been in the playoffs, so it wasn’t a total loss of a season,” Cafiero said. “We had 26 losses, and of those 26, 15 of those games we had the lead in the eighth inning. So any of those games could have gone either way and we could have been in the playoffs.”