The Shelter Island Bucks are one win away from playing for the championship of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.
The Bucks won the first playoff game in team history in style Monday evening, defeating the Sag Harbor Whalers 11-2 on the road in the opening game of their best-of-three HBCL semifinal playoff series.
If the Islanders win Tuesday’s game at 4:30 p.m. at Fiske Field they will be off until Friday preparing for a three game series against either the Southampton Breakers or the North Fork Ospreys for the HCBL crown.
If the Bucks’ lose Tuesday, a deciding game three will be played in Sag Harbor on Wednesday.
After the Whalers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the Bucks went on to score 11 unanswered runs.
With the game tied at two in the top of the third, Kyle Bartelman of Columbia University started things off with an infield single before moving to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jimmy Jack of Loyola Marymount University.
With one away, Trevor Freeman of Florida Southern College came to the plate and had a scary moment, slicing a foul ball off his knee. After lying on the ground for a few moments, Freeman got up and stayed in the game. Bartelman would take third during the at-bat on a passed ball before Freeman hit a grounder to third.
Then a bit of comic opera started. Bartelman darted for home on the grounder and the Whalers’ third baseman threw home. Bartelman moved back to third and the catcher responded by throwing the ball back towards third. But the ball had other ideas, striking Bartelman’s helmet, allowing him to score and putting the Bucks’ up 3-2.
Freeman acknowledged that it was “a changing point in the game” and complimented Bartelman on a good job running the bases.
Later on in the inning, Brian Kraft of Grand Canyon University came to the plate with two outs and Freeman still on and crushed a two run home-run to right field to put give Shelter Island a 5-2 advantage.
“I just told myself before the game I was going to swing hard every pitch I saw and it worked out for me,” Kraft said about his approach at the plate. He ended the game two for four with a walk, two RBIs and three runs scored.
After the Bucks’ three-run third inning there was no more scoring until the top of the seventh, when the Shelter Island bats came back to life. After Freeman singled to lead things off and then stole both second and third, he was brought home on a squeeze bunt to make the score 6-2. Kraft was on first at the time after walking and advanced to second on the bunt, scoring on a single by Andrew Casali of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
In the top of the eighth, Bartelman started things off again with a double with one out. He would come around to score this time on a two run home-run by Jack that put the Bucks up 9-2. Following the homer, Freeman walked to set up another two run home run for the Bucks, this time by Troy Scocca of Fairfield University.
“Just trying to shorten up, get one more run in for us,” Jack said about his approach in the eighth. He finished the day with two hits in four at-bats scoring one run and knocking in two.
Casali had a big day at the plate for the Bucks after starting the game in centerfield. He went four for five at the plate scoring a run and picking up a RBI. Usually more of a role player for Shelter Island, he didn’t log as many innings this summer as some of his teammates, Casali admitted it’s an adjustment coming off the bench. But in the team’s most important game of the year so far, he was able to adjust to a windy day in Sag Harbor and help the Bucks get a victory.
“The big thing on those [windy] days is trying to stay within yourself and not do too much,” Casali said. “I just tried to get good pitches to hit and hit low line drives.”
Isaac OBear of Grambling State University got the start for the Bucks and settled down after allowing two runs in the first inning on two doubles and a single. OBear went on to pitch six more scoreless innings after the rough first before giving way to the bullpen to close the victory out.
“I found my rhythm going into the second inning and it was smooth sailing from there,” OBear said.
Shelter Island manager Jon Karcich said his pitcher’s performance was “expected” since Bear “set the bar high” for himself. Karcich also said OBear was a big part of a momentum swing in the game after he was able to keep the Whalers off the board in the bottom of the second.
Looking forward to today’s game on Shelter Island at 4:30, several Buck suggested different pieces to the puzzle that will help them clinch a spot in the finals.
“We just have to swing at the first good pitch we see because normally when we get behind in the count it doesn’t end up good,” Kraft said. “If we keep seeing the good pitches and swinging at them I think we’ll be alright.”
Freeman said that the team just has to “stay focused” even if the next few days become a “grind.” Jack wants the team to stick to the same routine they have had all summer while OBear wants the team to “stay positive.”
The team was in a celebratory mood following the big victory in Sag Harbor.
“I was just excited we got the first playoff victory in Shelter Island Bucks history,” said Jack, who also played for the team last summer.