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Jul 29, 2019 3:26 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Aviators' Resiliency Shines In Semifinal Series Victories Over Breakers

Breakers second baseman Eric Marasheski (Princeton) throws to first to complete a double play.  DREW BUDD DREW BUDD
Jul 29, 2019 4:11 PM

Westhampton Aviators manager Alex Brosnan has been impressed by his team’s resiliency as it has gone through the summer of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, and that shined through in the best-of-three semifinal series with the Southampton Breakers.

After jumping out to a 7-2 lead through two innings in the second game of the series on Friday, the Aviators saw that lead evaporate quickly with the Breakers scoring five in the bottom of the second to knot the game at 7-7. But Westhampton scored 10 runs through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, and wound up taking the game, 17-7, in seven innings, to win the series in two games.

Westhampton rallied in the bottom of the ninth of game one on Thursday, July 25, to win, 4-3, after Southampton stormed back in the top of the ninth to make it a 3-2 game.

“That’s just the culture of our team,” Brosnan said. “We have very good leaders. And from day one, we’ve been fortunate enough. Anytime that we faced some adversity, the captains got everyone together, they had a good plan and a good approach. I can’t say enough how proud I am of the guys and how they find a way to win baseball games.”

Westhampton advanced to the HCBL Championship Series for the fourth time in five years, matching the North Fork Ospreys who accomplished the feat from 2009 to 2013, and made its sixth finals appearance since its inception into the league in 2009.

The Aviators played the Riverhead Tomcats in the best-of-three HCBL Championship Series which began on Monday (see separate story).

Friday’s game between host Southampton and Westhampton started late because two of the three umpires scheduled to work the game were working a two-day tournament at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank in which the championship game went into extra innings, Brosnan explained. Once there was the minimum two umpires, the game eventually started at 5:30 p.m., an hour later than scheduled.

While the teams waited for a second umpire, Brosnan said he and Southampton manager Rob Cafiero spoke to league officials and it was decided that they would play until sundown, whatever time that might be. With 14 runs being scored in the first two innings, seven innings ended up being the cutoff, just before 8:15 p.m. Brosnan said the late start had an adverse effect on both starting pitchers, which was unfortunate, but he noted that, in what ended up being a 10-run game, it wouldn’t have been fair to all players to make them come back on Saturday and finish the game.

With 24 runs scored on 26 hits and four errors between Westhampton and Southampton on Friday, offense was clearly the name of the game. Westhampton first baseman Sean O’Keefe (Western Michigan) went 3 for 4 with three runs scored and tied an HCBL record for RBIs in a playoff game with six. Mike Hayden had done it for the North Fork Ospreys in the opening game of the HCBL Championship Series in 2013. O’Keefe drove in a run on a base hit in the second, homered in the fifth to break the 7-7 tie, plated a run on a sacrifice fly in the sixth, and then he unloaded the bases with a double in the seventh. Bailey Peterson (Michigan State) also had a solid date at the plate for Westhampton, going 3 for 5 with three runs scored and three RBIs.

The first five batters in Southampton’s lineup each had multiple hits, led by Gerard Sweeney (Lehigh), who went 3 for 5 and drove in a pair of runs. Robbie Holmes (Monmouth), whose pinch-hit, two-run double gave the Breakers a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth in game one, went 2 for 4 and drove in three RBIs in game two.

Cafiero said he was proud of the way his offense kept his team in games, not only in the semifinals series, but throughout the second half of the season.

“If you look at our stats, game by game, we’ve had the lead into the sixth and seventh innings of games and it’s a tribute to our guys fighting and not giving up any at bats,” he said. “Toward the second half of the year, we did swing the bats pretty well.”

Cafiero said that it was unfortunate the way the game started late, and like Brosnan said, it certainly had an effect on his starting pitcher. Joe Cinnella (Seton Hall) was ready for the initial start time of 4:30 p.m., but when the umpire that was there said the game would start at 5 p.m., Cinnella got ready for that first pitch only to be told it would be pushed back a third time to 5:30 p.m.

With baseball being not only a game of routines but superstitions, the up and down nature didn’t work for Cinnella, Cafiero explained.

“Every player, especially pitchers, have a routine, they get themselves ready to go, and it can be mentally draining when you get warmed up and then told the game isn’t starting. That’s why baseball is one of those games where you have to be mentally strong. These guys are playing every day and most players are superstitious, especially starting pitchers.

“Typically, what most pitchers do is they start loosening up a half hour before first pitch. They can throw in a pregame routine anywhere between 30 to 60 pitches, so it is almost like throwing a couple of innings,” he added. “And when you sit down after throwing in the bullpen, your body cools down, your arm stiffens up. So getting up and down like that really doesn’t work for most.”

Overall, Cafiero was happy with the way his team fought through adversity much of the summer to qualify for the wild card game, win that game and find itself two wins away from the championship series.

“I think we had seven pitchers who didn’t throw one inning all year, and with a lot of them, or most of them, being freshmen, that means their last competitive pitch was in high school, or with a summer league team before college,” Cafiero said. “This year, we just had a real young team. Almost every kid was a freshman going into their sophomore year, so a lot of them didn’t play, so I expected us not to win as many games. But I couldn’t be happier, the way we finished up. John Clark, our pitching coach, got the pitchers ready every day, and the work that our guys put in, it was exciting. A lot of them started to get better and understand the mental approach to the game.”

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