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Bucks searching for offense

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The Shelter Island Bucks' bats have grown cold on the road in the early going of the 2014 season, but pitching and defense have carried them.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The Shelter Island Bucks’ bats have grown cold on the road in the early going of the 2014 season, but pitching and defense have carried them.

It’s early in the season, but losing close games on the road seems to be becoming a trend for the Shelter Island Bucks.

So far the Island’s representative in the 2014 Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League has played three road games and lost all of them by one run after the home team scored in the bottom of the ninth.

The latest tough luck road loss came Sunday night at the Riverhead Tomcats, where the Bucks lost 2-1 to move them to a 2-3 record on the young season.

With the score tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, the Tomcats began their inning with a double. After a pop-up to right field moved the runner to third, the Bucks recorded the second out of the inning after pitcher Nick Lawrence of Louisiana State University at Eunice struck out a batter. With the winning run at third for the Tomcats, the Bucks were just one out away from forcing extra innings when the next batter walked, setting up a game winning single by the Tomcats’ leadoff batter.

Riverhead almost had the game won without having to bat in the bottom of the ninth, but the Bucks were resilient, trailing 1-0 in the top half of the inning. Second baseman Darien McLemore started things off with a single to right field before two outs were recorded. With the game on the line, Trevor Freeman of Florida Southern College was sent up to pinch hit. McLemore stole second, which proved to be a crucial move. With two strikes, Freeman singled to score McLemore from second and tie the game.

After the game, Freeman called pinch hitting possibly the hardest thing to do in baseball. To get ready for his chance at the plate, he said he made sure he kept himself in the game as much as he could. When his chance came with the game on the line he “was just looking for a pitch up” and was able to take advantage of a good pitch to hit.

The game featured very little offense. Brandon Kacer of Elon University started the game for the Bucks and didn’t allow a run, striking out seven over four innings of work. A positive trend for the Bucks so far this summer, has been strong pitching and solid defense, carrying an offense that still has not quite hit on all cylinders.

Following the loss Sunday night, Coach Jon Karcich commented on how strong his pitchers have been but expressed a little concern about his offense. “Pitchers are doing fantastic but at some point we can’t rely on the pitchers 100 percent and [have to] score one or two runs,” he commented. “Offense has to step up a little bit. Too many nonproductive outs.”

The Bucks’ game prior to the loss at the Tomcats was a home affair Friday night where they beat the Westhampton Aviators 3-1 in another low scoring contest.

The Bucks were down early in the game after starting pitcher Nick Freijomil of Long Island University worked his way into a jam and allowed a run. But after the first, Freijomil settled down to pitch five more innings of scoreless ball for the Bucks.

Freijomil credited his success in part to a bullpen session he threw prior to the game with pitching Coach Gerald Smiley. “In my bullpen before the game Coach Smiley gave me some pointers on how to throw my curveball a different way,” he revealed after the game. “I felt pretty good in the game so I think that was a big help using all three of my pitches rather than just my fastball or changeup.”

The Bucks got onto the board in the bottom of the fourth after catcher Zach Leone of the University of Massachusetts Amherst doubled with two outs. Leone then reached third base on a passed ball before scoring to tie things up at one on a double by centerfielder Steve Pinales of Sullivan County Community College.

In the bottom of the fifth the Bucks loaded the bases with two outs for the second inning in the row and came away with the lead to show for it. Pinales singled to kick things off before second baseman Will Savage of Columbia University walked. First baseman Juan Soriano of Louisiana State University at Eunice followed with a walk to bring up designated hitter Jimmy Jack of Loyola Marymount University. In a bit of an odd situation during Jack’s at-bat, a pitch in the dirt from the Aviator’s pitcher hit off home plate and went flying over the backstop. The umpires ruled that each Buck baserunner was allowed to advance one base, resulting in Pinales scoring to put the Bucks up 2-1. Jack then grounded out to end the inning.

The Bucks tacked on one more run in the home half of the seventh after Pinales was thrown out at home on a Savage single early in the inning. Savage was able to reach second on the throw home and then advanced to third on a balk. Third baseman Darien McLemore of the University of Texas at Arlington then singled to score Savage and give the Bucks a 3-1 lead.

The Islanders were able to hold onto their 3-1 lead thanks to a couple of Houdini acts by their pitchers. First in the top of the seventh with two outs and runners on first and third, the team was able to end the inning after a throw to get the runner stealing second was cut off and fired home to get the runner there.

In the top of the eighth Billy Richardson of Loyola Marymount University found himself in a bases loaded one out situation before he struck out consecutive Aviator batters to end the inning. Again the top of the ninth Richardson found himself in trouble with runners on first and second with one out in the close game but again he escaped to ensure the Bucks got the win.

Coach Karcich was happy with his team after the win and the adversity they faced during the game. “They did a good job of staying in the moment and not getting caught up in the big situation,” he said on his team’s ability to get out of the few jams.

Friday’s game came with some exciting news for the home fans as the Bucks had their first former player drafted in the Major League Baseball Draft. Mac James, who played on Shelter Island last summer and hit a team leading .314 for the 2013 Bucks, went in the sixth round of the draft to the Tampa Bay Rays. James had a breakout junior season at the University of Oklahoma hitting .330 to lead the Sooners and eighth best B.A. in the powerful Big 12 Conference. He made the All-Big 12 First Team as a utility player although he was primarily a catcher on the Island last summer.