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Jul 25, 2019 10:57 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Breakers Top Bucks To Win HCBL Wild Card Game, Advance To Semifinals

Cole Humes (Lehigh) came in relief of Rob Lucano and shut Shelter Island down helping the Breakers stay in the game and eventually win it.  DREW BUDD DREW BUDD
Jul 26, 2019 12:39 PM

After the first week of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League season, the Southampton Breakers were still searching for their first victory, and things didn't get much better. By the end of the first full month of the season, Southampton was 5-15-1, still in last place and staring at what could have been a lost summer.

Once the calendar turned to July, though, the Breakers seemingly turned into a different team. They went 11-8 in the final month of the regular season—5-2 in the final week—to capture the fifth and final seed into the playoffs and earning a bid into the league's wild card game on Wednesday at No. 4 Shelter Island. And now, after its 7-4 victory over the Bucks in that game, Southampton all of a sudden finds itself two wins away from reaching the HCBL Championships.

Thanks to Wednesday's victory over the Bucks, the Breakers advanced to play a best-of-three series against the top-seeded Westhampton Aviators, which begins Thursday in Westhampton. Game two will be Friday in Southampton with game three, if necessary, returning to Westhampton. The other semifinal series will feature the No. 2 Riverhead Tomcats against No. 3 Sag Harbor Whalers. That series also begins on Thursday in Riverhead with game two being Friday in Sag Harbor. All games start at 4:30 p.m.

The winners of the two semifinal series will advance to the HCBL Championships, which begin this Monday.

Both Southampton coaches and players talked about the team's turnaround after their wild card victory on Wednesday and said it took the team the first month or so to acclimate to the league.

"Early on the in the season, we didn’t have a lot of who guys who had at bats or innings pitched at their schools," Southampton manager Rob Cafiero explained. "That’s usually what I use June for, is to get everybody in the mix, try and get their pitch counts up and get everybody their at bats, and then usually by July it starts clicking for most of the guys and we play strong in the second half, usually every year.

"I think with the biggest thing with our team, we're younger, so I think a lot of it was seeing pitches and experience, honestly" Cole Humes (Lehigh), who got the win in relief, said. "Took us a while to get up to speed but once we were, we hit full stride."

Southampton looked like it might cruise to a victory on Wednesday against a depleted Shelter Island squad. After a run-scoring base hit by Justice Thompson (Northwest Florida State) in the top of the third, and a sacrifice fly in the fourth by Michael Ferrara (North Carolina/Greensboro) in the fourth, the 2-0 lead looked like it was going to be enough for starting pitcher Rob Lucano (Hofstra), who didn't allow a hit until Andy Semo's ground-rule double to lead off the fifth inning. To the Bucks credit, they didn't go down without a fight and knocked Lucano out of the game with a three-run sixth to take a 4-2 lead.

Humes relieved Lucano in the sixth, and after allowing a sacrifice fly, he loaded by the bases by hitting a batter and giving up a pair of walks. That was about all Shelter Island would get off Humes the rest of the game though. He struck out the next two batters in the inning to strand the bases loaded, and he was virtually unstoppable afterwards, allowing just two hits and no walks with five strikeouts the rest of the way.

Humes said that with nearing his pitch count limit for the summer, he wanted to give it his all in what will likely be one of his final appearances.

"I really just wanted to go out there, empty the tank, throw strikes and just let my team work for me," he said. "I know how bad we wanted to win this game and go far in playoffs, so."

Humes' effort on the mound allowed Southampton's offense to stage a comeback and that's what it did. Kyle Lagrutta (St. Thomas Aquinas) beat out what would have been a double play at first base in the top of the seventh, allowing Robbie Holmes (Monmouth) to score and make it a one-run game at 4-3.

In the top of the eighth, and runners on second and third, Bucks reliever Chris Knight (George Washington) was called for a balk, allowing Tony Zambito (Southern Connecticut) to score the tying run. Two batters later, Gerard Sweeney (Lehigh) hit a bouncer between first and second which second baseman Bryce Daniel (Dartmouth) fielded cleanly but he fumbled the throw to first baseman Eddie Satisky (Chattanooga State) who couldn't hold on to the ball, allowing Eric Marasheski (Princeton) to come around and score the go-ahead run at 5-4.

After a base hit to right field by Thompson kept the inning going, Lagrutta unloaded on the first pitch he saw to deep left field and his double pushed Holmes and Sweeney to score to make it a 7-4 ball game.

Shelter Island loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth due to a pair of hit batsmen and a fielding error, but Humes struck out the side. The Bucks then got a pair of runners on base in their final chances in the ninth, but Humes once again came through, striking out the final two batters to end the game.

Cafiero admitted after the game that it was ugly on both sides and he wasn't wrong; both teams committed three errors in the field; five different batters were hit by pitches and each team's pitching staffs allowed five walks; and each team left a bunch of runners on base, 14 for the Breakers, 13 for the Bucks. But Cafiero gave credit to his players for coming through when they needed to.

"Our guys swung the bats well against one of their best pitchers. The ball bounced our way a couple of times early in the game and we had a couple of timely hits at the end there," Cafiero said. "The guy who closed the game [Knight] is probably one of the best arms in the league. They were bringing him in to shut it down. He got a little wild, which worked in our favor, and then we loaded the bases on an error or two, and Lagrutta had that big hit right there. I'm glad we swung it well late in the game."

The Breakers are admittedly "optimistic" they can do something in the semifinals against the Aviators, a team they weren't able to beat in six games during the regular season.

"They’re a real good team but that’s why you play the games, you never know what’s going to happen," Cafiero said. "They’ve had our number all year, so maybe something will happen in the playoffs. They’re down with a couple injuries, we're down with a couple of injuries, so it should be an exciting series and we’ll see what happens."

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16-23-1 gets you in the playoffs!?
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Jul 25, 19 9:12 PM
The top three teams reach the postseason regardless of record while the fourth and fifth place teams play a wild card game for the final playoff spot, again, regardless of record. The league typically has great parity but this season Riverhead and Westhampton were a step above the rest leading to some poor records.
By Drew Budd, Sports Editor (11), Southampton on Jul 26, 19 1:50 PM