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Shelter Island Bucks on top of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Shelter Island Bucks Chris Hess ready to cut the bag at second and head for third on his way to an inside- the-park-home run Friday against the Westhampton Aviators.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Shelter Island Bucks Chris Hess ready to cut the bag at second and head for third on his way to an inside- the-park-home run Friday against the Westhampton Aviators.

A controversial inside-the-park home run led the Shelter Island Bucks to a 4-3 win over the Westhampton Aviators in the nightcap of a doubleheader on Friday.

With the bases empty, star second baseman Chris Hess hit a shot to deep centerfield in the sixth inning that rolled towards the green mesh fence at Fiske Field. Two Westhampton outfielders converged on the ball, and as Hess rounded second base, one committed a blunder reminiscent of Bill Buckner or Steve Bartman. The player kicked the ball past the fence, then raised his hands to signal a ground rule double. The first base ump was not fooled, however, and allowed Coach Jamie Quinn to wave Hess home for the game-winning run.

Shelter Island entered the contest one game behind the Aviators in the league standings, but after a critical sweep of their opponents followed by another win on Saturday against Riverhead, the Bucks stand alone atop the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.

“It’s been an uphill climb all year long, but we know that we can’t get complacent about it,” Coach Quinn said after the sweep of the Aviatiors. “We need to build on today and keep pushing forward.’

Three weeks ago, the Bucks surrendered 15 runs to a last place team and were a mid-level club in the HCBL with a 7-7 record. Since that memorable collapse at SUNY Southampton, the Bucks have won 15 of 19 games, and are one win away from clinching a spot in the four-team HCBL playoffs.

“I challenged these guys today,” Coach Quinn said. “I said the toughest thing to do in baseball in win a doubleheader, but they did it.”

The long weekend began with a forgettable loss to the 11-18 Sag Harbor Whalers on Thursday. After conceding a run in the first inning, Shelter Island fell behind for good in the top of the third when Pat O’Shea allowed six base runners to cross home plate. With the Bucks’ two most productive hitters on the bench, it appeared as if the game was over, until a blast to centerfield from Jonathan Moroney scored two runs. The newfound momentum, however, proved to be short lived.

Moroney was called out at third base trying to stretch his double and vented his anger from left field in the next inning when a Sag Harbor player successfully stole second base. He was promptly ejected from the game, while a chorus of ribbing was directed to the umpire crew from the Bucks bench as the Texas A&M senior left Fiske Field.

Despite three hits from Ben Prada and a successful display by Shelter Island’s bullpen, the Bucks managed only two more runs and lost 10-4.

Four runs in the bottom of the fourth were enough for Shelter Island to take the first game of the doubleheader Friday evening.

After fouling off five consecutive pitches, third baseman Ryan Sabo singled to left, driving in teammates Dom Burgnoni and Jack Machonis. Pitcher Collin Snider recovered from two poor relief performances in the last week to pitch a complete game gem. The starter from Vanderbilt University missed the first month of the season because his team had advanced to the College World Series championship in late June, but proved himself invaluable in bringing the Bucks level with Westhampton in the league standings. He held Westhampton star Logan McRae to one hit, and allowed just six runners in the shortened seven-inning game.

Shelter Island finally managed to avoid confrontation with the umpires in the first contest, but their opponents were not as fortunate. Westhampton manager Dan Luisi was ejected in the fourth inning arguing a called strike, while his team’s bench was repeatedly warned to be silent throughout the game.

The Bucks scored a run in the first and again in the fifth, building a 3-0 lead before pitcher Anthony Alicki allowed a single runner past second base. With one out in the top of the sixth, however, McRae crushed a three run home run over the left field wall to tie it up.

“It was tough, but towards the end of the game, the starting pitcher gets tired,” Coach Quinn said. “He made one mistake that game, leaving a 1-0 fastball up in the zone.”

Hess would match McRae in the next inning, hitting his inside the park home run of his own and winning Alicki his sixth game of the season.

Kevin Bunting pitched five strong innings and got the win in Sunday’s 9-5 victory over Riverhead. The Bucks have Sunday off before returning to Fiske Field on Monday to face the Aviators once again.