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Jul 29, 2018 11:35 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Whalers' Season Ends After Game Three Loss To Riverhead Tomcats

Sag Harbor starting pitcher Milton Vironis allowed just two earned runs in five and two-thirds innings pitched in Saturday's game. DREW BUDD
Jul 31, 2018 10:11 AM

After the Riverhead Tomcats dispatched the Sag Harbor Whalers in the third and deciding game of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League’s semifinal series with a 4-1 victory at Veterans Memorial Complex in Calverton on Saturday afternoon, players and coaches, and anyone involved with the Sag Harbor franchise, could be seen hugging each other, some even giving their final farewells. It was the end of a long summer, one that included ups and downs for the Whalers.

After playing .500 baseball for the first month or so of the season, Sag Harbor went 9-5-2 the first two weeks of July, but then didn’t win a game in its final six outings (0-4-2) of the regular season. Thanks to the new wild card game the HCBL implemented this season, though, the Whalers finished fifth and took on the fourth-place Shelter Island Bucks for the right to move on to the semifinals. Trailing the Bucks, 8-2, at one point in that game on July 25, Sag Harbor scored eight runs in the seventh inning and overcame seven fielding errors to defeat the host Bucks, 12-10, and move on to the semis against the top-seeded Tomcats.

Predicted to not win a single game against Riverhead—which squared off against the defending champion Long Island Road Warriors in the HCBL Championship best-of-three series this week, Sag Harbor did so convincingly in game two of the series, an 11-5 victory that forced a third game on Saturday. In between fielding hugs and thanks from players after Saturday’s game, Nate Lawrence, who returned as head coach of the Whalers this season after taking last season off, said that one of the great things about the HCBL is that any team can win on any given day.

“This Sag Harbor team, it was a team that I enjoyed showing up to the field with every day and getting to coach,” he said. “Bunch of good dudes, bunch of scrappy guys. I wouldn’t have traded this team for any other team in this league, that’s for sure.

“In the playoffs, down the stretch, we did some things that people thought we wouldn’t have been able to do,” Lawrence added. “We were thin on pitching, had some gutsy performances, had some guys get big hits at the right time, so yeah, I saw that heart all year long and it was nice to see it come through in the playoffs.”

After scoring 11 runs on 18 hits in game two of the semis on Friday, the Whalers could only scrounge up a single run in game three. Sag Harbor left 11 runners on base on Saturday but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Trailing 2-0 in the top of the third, Jace Mercer (Cincinnati) tried scoring from second base on a bloop single to left center field from Nick Thornquist (Texas-San Antonio). Riverhead centerfielder Connor Echols (Dayton) came up throwing to home plate, and it looked as if a diving Mercer got his outstretched right hand on the plate before catcher Trevor Fagan (Sacred Heart) could apply a tag, but home plate umpire Andrew Mundy called Mercer out. Joe Suozzi (Boston College) moved up to third base on the play, creating a first-and-third situation with two outs. Jason Allbery (Creighton) grounded out to short to end the inning.

After Riverhead tacked on a pair of runs in the bottom of the third on a pair of errors, Sag Harbor got on the board in the top of the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Kros Bay (Cowley County C.C.) which scored Brandon Miller (St. John’s). The Whalers’ best shot to make some noise came in the top of the eighth when they loaded the bases with two outs, but Sam Cachola (California-Berkeley) grounded out to second baseman Alex Baratta (Binghamton) to end that threat. Beau Keathley (Oakland) struck out two of the three batters he faced in the top of the ninth to shut down Sag Harbor.

“We threatened a few times, we just couldn’t get the right hit at the right time. And that’s baseball,” Lawrence said. “In baseball they always say, ‘It’s okay, we’ll play again tomorrow.’ This time we don’t get to.

“We needed three more wins, that was the goal. Three wins away,” from winning an HCBL Championship, he added.

Among the non-local players who now have long trips back home include Cachola, a Southern California native out of Irvine, who played with the West Coast League last summer. Since that league spans Oregon, Washington and even some parts of southwestern Canada, Cachola said the WCL included lengthy road trips, something he didn’t have to endure with the HCBL. The longest trip he had with the Whalers was an hour and a half.

“Playing on the Whalers specifically was awesome,” he said. “Sandi [Kruel], all the coaches, were great. They took really good care of us this summer. Host families were amazing. I have nothing but great things to say about the organization.

“As for the league itself, it was great competition, I had a great summer,” Cachola added. “Off days, I got to work in the community too … it was everything I could have asked for.”

Sandi Kruel, who is one half of the general manager tandem for the Whalers, along with Tom Gleason, said this year’s group of players was one of the best she’s had in her 11 years with the program. It also happened to be the first Whalers’ team to qualify for the postseason since 2014.

“Anybody that came across our radar that Nate felt we needed to get us to the playoffs, we worked really hard to get,” she said. “I feel really good that I put together probably one of the best teams that I could have for him to coach, and what came out of it was probably one of the best group of kids I’ve ever had in 11 years. They were just amazing kids on the field and off the field. They were just exemplary players for the league; I’m pretty proud of that.”

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