By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
Only three days removed from winning their second consecutive regular season title, this year in a split with the Southampton Breakers, the Sag Harbor Whalers of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League (HCBL) had their season come to an end Tuesday with a loss to the Shelter Island Bucks in a playoff semifinal.
The Bucks returned home after having dismantled the Whalers, 11-2, in Game 1 of a best-of-three series at Mashashimuet Park on Monday. Shelter Island’s 5-4 win on Tuesday set up a championship series for the weekend against Southampton, which knocked off the defending champion North Fork in the league’s other semifinal series.
The Bucks homered three times as part of a 15-hit barrage in Sag Harbor on Monday. The Whalers jumped out to an early 2-0 advantage with RBI hits from Nolan Meadows (Long Beach State) and Zach Piazza (Wake Forest), but allowed 11 straight runs to the Bucks, who claimed their first-ever postseason victory.
It was a lively home crowd for the Whalers and another successful season for Sag Harbor’s collegiate team, now in its seventh year. According to Whalers co-general manager Sandi Kruel, one of the league’s goals is to have parity throughout, and it became clear early on this season that anyone could beat anyone on any given day. The top six teams in the standings after the regular season were separated by just 2.5 games.
“We had a great experience, we had three great coaches and the kids left learning more about baseball than when they came,” Kruel said. “We succeeded and there’s always another day of baseball tomorrow.”
Complementing his team’s offensive fireworks on Monday was Bucks starter Issac O’Bear (Grambling State), who held the Whalers to eight hits and two runs over seven innings. In his five starts this month, O’Bear went 4-0 with a 1.44 ERA.
The Whalers, meanwhile, had one of the top pitchers in the league on the mound, which made Monday’s result all the more surprising. Alex Person (Southern New Hampshire) led the league during the regular season with a 1.34 ERA but was roughed up by the Bucks to open the playoffs.
Sag Harbor played both games without Dan Rizzie (Xavier), the team’s starting catcher and arguably the its best player, who was ill. Starting shortstop Ryan Fitzgerald (Creighton) missed Tuesday’s game because of injury.
Kruel said she and Tom Gleeson, the club’s other general manager, would welcome back as many players as possible next year, adding that several local players, including Kruel’s son, Nick, could potentially play for the Whalers next summer. That being said, Kruel also acknowledged the hope that some of the league’s better players would move on to more well-established leagues in the future.
“Our hope is that we send them off to a better league, get them to the Cape and other leagues that have been established longer than us,” Kruel said. “And then one day we want to be that league that kids come to at the end.”