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Shelter Island Bucks stay close for playoff drive

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The Bucks notched their most impressive win of the season Sunday against Riverhead.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The Bucks notched their most impressive win of the season Sunday against Riverhead.

The Shelter Island Bucks victory Sunday evening at Fiske Field over the Riverhead Tomcats stopped the bleeding after dropping four games in a row last week.

The 6-2 win was also the most impressive victory for the Bucks this season.

Facing his third batter of the game in the top of the first, Bucks’ starter Brandon Kacer of Elon University injured his arm and had to be removed from the game. Relief pitcher Issac OBear of Grambling State University had to step up for the team, coming in with no time to prepare. OBear went on to be the story of the game for the Bucks, pitching 6.2 innings giving up just one run.

OBear was surprised when he got the call. “That was the most unexpected moment of my whole career,” he said.

The pitcher credited having a few days off as one reason he was able to be so effective on the mound. He also was not expecting to go very deep into the game, until he got to third inning. “I thought I was doing really well and I figured I could go a good ways.”

Bucks’ Manager Jon Karcich did not hesitate in stating the importance of OBear’s outing.

“That game could have easily gone sideways,” Karcich said. “And our bullpen would have been toast for the next week.”

Not to be forgotten was the performance of the Bucks’ offense. In the bottom of the first the team jumped out to a 1-0 lead after Kyle Bartelman of Columbia University reached third base with one out on misplayed ball by the Tomcat centerfielder. Jimmy Jack of Loyola Marymount University then doubled to bring Bartelman home putting the Bucks ahead.

In the bottom of the fourth the home team plated two runs after Trevor Freeman of Florida Southern College singled with no outs to start things off. Freeman stole second and Troy Scocca of Fairfield University singled to put men on first and second. Freeman would score on a bunt and then Scocca would come home on a ground rule double by Sean McMillan of the University of Redlands putting the Bucks up 3-0.

In the bottom of the fifth the Bucks scored three more to make it 6-0.

“They did a good job,” Karcich said about his team’s offense. “We chip away and get those big two out hits.”

Bartelman led the team at the plate reaching base four times, three times with singles. The infielder pointed out that the first two singles came with two strikes. He believed that helped him, noting, “It’s always been my strength hitting with two strikes.”

The victory moved the Bucks’ record to 12-12 on the season, tied with Riverhead for fourth place in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League standings, two and a half games back of first. The top four teams in the league make the playoffs at the end of July.

As the season slowly begins to wind down and the playoff push becomes more real, Karcich is excited to see how his team will react in the stretch. “I’m looking forward to this week,” he said. “Seeing how we step up to the challenge of contending, pretty much of getting into a playoff spot, and seeing how we do.”

The game was the second of the holiday weekend for the Bucks after their game Friday morning at Sag Harbor was rained out. Their first game Thursday evening to kick the weekend off resulted in a 8-5 loss at the hands of the North Fork Ospreys.

In the loss Bucks’ starter Nick Freijomil of Long Island University admitted he didn’t have his “A” game. “If you don’t have your best stuff you need to figure out ways to get it done and that just didn’t happen today,” Freijomil said.

The Bucks’ offense made things interesting by scoring runs in five consecutive innings, but ultimately their pitchers could not keep the Osprey’s off the board.

“Unfortunately tonight we couldn’t get that second run across or we couldn’t put up a zero after we scored,” Karcich commented. “We couldn’t get a shutdown inning.”

Prior to the holiday weekend, some Bucks players gave clinics on Wednesday and Thursday mornings to local kids happy to learn skills from the college players. A good crowd of about 30 kids attended the clinics each day, according to general manager Dave Gurney.

“Our guys had a blast teaching them and being around them and I’m glad it was a great turnout,” Karcich commented.

Brandon Kacer was one of the Bucks who helped out at the clinics.  “I think everybody had a great time,” Kacer said. “It was great just to give back to the community for all they’ve done for us. I think we taught the younger kids a lot of stuff about the game.”

As pointed out by Kacer, the clinics were one way for the team to give back to Shelter Island for all the Island does for them. It was also another chance for the team to interact with their younger fans, who are a big part of the crowd supporting the Bucks.

Kacer notes that the players know that younger fans look up to them as role models and he’s happy to take on the responsibility. “It’s always nice to have younger fans at the games because it makes you remember when you were that little and how much you just love the game,” he said.