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Jul 28, 2018 10:50 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Kruel, Offense Keep Whalers Alive In HCBL Semifinals

Nick Kruel (Tampa) pitched into the eighth inning on Friday and allowed just one earned run in his ninth career victory, tying the HCBL record. DREW BUDD
Jul 30, 2018 7:16 AM

Nick Kruel didn't want game two of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League's semifinal series on Friday to be the last game for him or his Sag Harbor Whaler teammates, so he did his best on the mound to force a third and decisive game with the Riverhead Tomcats.

The Sag Harbor native and University of Tampa product pitched into the eighth inning on Friday, allowing just one earned run to the top-seeded Tomcats in what was an 11-5 victory for the Whalers. It was Kruel's ninth career victory, surpassing current Washington Nationals prospect and fellow Sag Harbor native Kyle McGowin (Savannah State), who had eight wins between the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He tied the HCBL career record held by former Whaler and Center Moriches Battlecat Adam Brown (Stony Brook/Dowling), who won nine games between 2010-2012.

"The whole mindset's been this could be my last game as a Whaler, could be my last game pitching at [Mashashimuet] Park in front of the team that has given me four years of amazing baseball," he said. "So to be out here playing a do or die game in front of the home crowd and be able to win it for them is one of the best feelings you can have playing for the Whalers."

Game three of the series moves back to Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton on Saturday. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m. The winner will advance to the HCBL Championship Series against the winner of the other semifinal series between the Long Island Road Warriors and Westhampton Aviators, which is also playing a third game on Saturday.

Cruising in the eighth with two consecutive outs, there was a bit of scare when Tomcat Connor Echols (Dayton) hit a liner back up the middle and Kruel reached out with his right pitching hand to try and stop it. The ball reached second base, where it was fielded by shortstop Jace Mercer (Cincinnati) who nearly got Echols, but he beat the throw at first. Sag Harbor manager Nate Lawrence and home plate umpire Tom Magier met with Kruel on the mound to make sure he was okay, and after convincing them he was, play ensued.

The very next batter, Markus Melendez (Mitchell), hit a two-run home run just over the fence in the right field corner, spelling the end to Kruel's day.

"My reflexes tried to grab it with my barehand," Kruel said of the line drive. "Hurt a little bit, almost got the out, but I'll be good to go for the next start.

"Went eight, got to save our relievers, really good going in to tomorrow," he said. "Hopefully we can take the third and keep going."

Lawrence has been the manager for most of Kruel's four years on the Whalers and said he's saving his best stuff when it matters most.

"He's pitched really well, but he's pitching the best baseball of his summer at the most important time, so that's been huge," he said.

On top of Kruel's performance, Sag Harbor's offense exploded for 11 runs on 18 hits and eight walks, a big difference from the first game of the series on Thursday, when the Riverhead pitching staff shut out the Whalers lineup, only allowing five hits. Already up 4-1, Sag Harbor broke the game open with a six-run fifth inning, the big blow coming off the bat of Mercer, who hit a bases-clearing double to deep right center field which made it 8-1.

"The first time we played them we didn't score any runs, their pitchers were all over us, so we needed to come out hot today, swing early, and that's what we did," said Jason Allbery (Creighton), who hit a pair of doubles and scored twice on Friday. "That's what gave us our shot today and that's what will give us a shot tomorrow."

Allbery said the offense didn't change its strategy at the plate, just that everyone was a little more relaxed.

"Today it seemed like we were a little more laid back," he said. "Before the game we said we were going to go out and have fun today, if it's our last one so be it."

Lawrence admitted after the game it seems like his team plays well under pressure making for what should be an interesting game three.

"It's going to take a gutsy performance from everyone tomorrow. All hands on deck," he said. "We've played with our backs to the wall feels like all summer, so this isn't a new feeling for us. The wild card game, we knew what we had to do, today we knew what we had to do. Tomorrow is the same feeling, so we just need to bring the same intensity to the yard."

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