by Andrew Rudansky
After missing the playoffs the last two seasons, the Sag Harbor Whalers have finally reached the post season in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. The Whalers clinched one of the four available playoff seeds this past weekend by taking three games out of four in a series with the North Fork Ospreys.
Going into the weekend, the Whalers were only three games out of yet another disappointing last place finish. Their last place finish in both 2009 and 2010 in the five-team Hamptons Division excluded the Whalers from playing past the regular season.
The series with the dangerous, first-place Ospreys looked to unravel what has been a shaky season for the Whalers, sending the collegiate players home early yet again. The Whalers had only limited success against the Ospreys, losing to them in four of their previous six meetings.
The four game series was the result of previous rain outs earlier in the season; it was formatted into two separate seven inning double-headers. The first two games on Friday, July 22; the other two on Sunday, July 24.
The Whalers fell flat in the beginning of the series, dropping the first game. Joe Solomeno tried to jump start things early with a two run homer in the first inning of the game; however, the lackluster offense of the Whalers did little to build on Solomeno’s early success.
The normally stellar, right-handed pitcher Brian Russell performed poorly as well, allowing nine hits and four runs in just under five innings. The Ospreys took the first game 5-3, and the Whalers looked as if they might miss the playoffs yet again.
But the Whalers’ misfortunes turned around in the second game. They tallied five runs in the top of the first inning. Then righty, Sag Harbor native Kyle McGowin, delivered a show-stopping performance. McGowin has had a brilliant season, with four wins and an ERA well under 2.00. McGowin burned through the Osprey’s lineup, who went without a hit through six inning. His fastball proved all but untouchable, and he ended the night with 13 strikeouts. McGowin couldn’t hold on to the no hitter, but he still led his team to an impressive 7-3 win.
Whalers’ manager, Jim Buckley, praised McGowin’s performance as part of the team effort. “All year long our pitching staff has done a great job,” he said, crediting the entire rotation for the Whalers’ ongoing success.
With the series tied at one a piece, the teams next met on Sunday in Sag Harbor. The Whalers trailed for most of the first game and in the final inning they were still down by one run. To finish the game, the Ospreys sent in their closer, Kris Selvaggi. The shutdown righty hadn’t given up a run since June 18.
With the game on the line, Kyle Weeks and Charlie Curl were both able to hit RBI singles, giving the Whalers a close 5-4 victory.
The nightcap was another tense game for the Whalers, who squeaked out a victory thanks to a three run homer from Brian Bruening in the bottom of the fifth inning. The home run, Bruening’s first of the season, was a pleasant surprise from the defensive minded center fielder with a season batting average of .216. The game winner for the Whalers came from an RBI double by Gilli, that gave the Whalers just enough for the 7-6 victory. By winning the series 3-1 the Whalers knock the last place Riverhead Tomcats out of playoff contention, and secure their own post season hopes.
“Today’s wins are huge,” said Whalers’ general manager, Sandi Kruel, after the Whalers’ final win in the series. “I am really excited for the boys because they have worked really hard and it shows.”
The only sour note of the weekend came during game two of the series. Whalers’ infielder Ryan Kresky left the game early after his left hand was cut open by a baserunner’s cleat. After being taken to the hospital, he was given several stitches for the laceration. Kruel still said Kresky would be ready for the post season.
The Whalers will need Kresky to be healthy, as his team-leading batting average has been crucial to the the success of an otherwise unimpressive Whalers’ offense.
Buckley said that in the post season, with or without Kresky, “I like our chances.”