By Gavin Menu
As it turned out, the Battlecats were battle ready.
The surging club from Center Moriches, which scratched its way into the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League (HCBL) playoffs last week, knocked the top-seeded Sag Harbor Whalers from contention on Tuesday evening.
For the second consecutive game, the series went into extra innings, where it was the Battlecats who came through with clutch plays and last-minute heroics.
The visitors spoiled a festive atmosphere during Game 1 at Mashashimuet Park on Monday as Jacob Bodner, the Whalers’ junior pitcher from Xavier with a rocket for a right arm, entered a scoreless pitchers’ duel in the top of the 13th inning. Bodner, the team’s normally reliable and extremely talented closer, allowed three runs in the inning and Center Moriches escaped with a 3-0 victory and a leg up in the best-of-three series.
Then on Tuesday, playing on the Battlecats’ home field, East Hampton native Deilyn Guzman (Molloy) loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th inning before being replaced by lefty Gino Basso (Georgetown) on the mound. Battlecat Zach Persky (Rollins) knocked Basso’s first pitch through the infield to score Jacob Midkiff (Presbyterian) with the game-winning run, sending the Battlecats to the upcoming championship series.
The other HCBL semifinal was to be decided last night after press time, with Westhampton and the North Fork playing a decisive Game 3 on Westhampton’s home field.
Tuesday’s loss ended what was, by all accounts, a successful season for the Whalers, who surged in the second half of the summer to claim the regular-season title and top seed for the playoffs. It was the first HCBL season for manager Brendan Monaghan, who also accepted a new coaching job at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell this summer.
Bodner, the team’s closer, had not given up an earned run in 20 innings during the regular season and was lighting up the radar gun with 94-mile-per-hour fastballs on Monday. After pitching a 1-2-3 top of the 12thinning, he gave up a pair of walks with one out in the 13th and then allowed a single by Chris Appell (Nassau CC) to load the bases.
The Battlecats finally broke through with back-to-back RBI hits from Stefan Trosclair (Louisiana St. at Eunice) and Persky, and, in shocking fashion, Center Moriches had stolen Game 1.
The starting pitchers on Monday—and in both games, for that matter—were masterful. Sag Harbor’s John Nicklas (Boston College) pitched nine innings while allowing just four hits and two walks. Mike O’Reilly (Flagler) was just as good for Center Moriches and went seven innings while also allowing only four hits.
Dan Wertz (Sacred Heart) pitched the 10th and 11th innings for Sag Harbor on Monday and three Battlecat relievers finished what O’Reilly started, shutting down the Whalers line-up through six innings of work. Brett Byrun (Presbyterian) threw the final three innings and picked up the win. In total, Center Moriches pitchers struck out 18 and did not allow a single walk.
There was slightly more offense on Tuesday, with Nick Nunziato (New Haven) homering off Sag Harbor starter Keenan Kolinsky (Vanderbilt) in the fourth inning to put the Battlecats on the board. The Whalers answered back in the sixth when JJ Franco was brought home on an RBI double from Dan Rizzie (Xavier), who was arguably the team’s best hitter all summer. Justin Montemayor, who made the freshman All-American team at the University of Houston last year, knocked in a second run to put Sag Harbor up, 2-1.
But Center Moriches came back and tied the game in the sixth inning on an RBI by Mike Roehrig, who plays his college ball locally at Stony Brook University. That set the stage for another dramatic finish, and an unlikely appearance for the Battlecats in the HCBL championship series, which begins tomorrow, August 2.