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Jul 31, 2019 11:36 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Westhampton Aviators Win Fourth HCBL Championship

The Aviators celebrate their fourth HCBL Championship after their 7-3 victory over the Riverhead Tomcats on Tuesday. DREW BUDD
Jul 31, 2019 11:36 AM

For the fourth time in their 10-year existence, the Westhampton Aviators are Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League champions.

Westhampton defeated the Riverhead Tomcats, 7-3, to finish off the two-game sweep in the best-of-three series at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton on Tuesday and win its league-leading fourth title, twice as much as any other team in the league. The Aviators won the first game of the series, 10-4, on Monday at home.

Westhampton and Riverhead were clearly the two top teams in the league throughout the summer, both finishing with identical 27-11-2 records, so it was only fitting that they met in the league championship. Westhampton, behind its veteran-laden group, came in hot to the postseason, having won its final five regular season games, and then it won all four of its playoff games, having swept the Southampton Breakers in its semifinal series.

Westhampton manager Alex Brosnan said during his team’s celebration on the infield in Calverton that the experience the players brought to the team this summer was priceless and a big part of the reason why they were able to be so successful. That experience turned into clutch hitting—seemingly whenever the club needed it—to go along with some top-notch pitching.

“You look at the first four batters of my lineup—they’re going to be seniors or redshirt juniors, so they have that experience of playing in big games, and I was lucky enough to have some guys who have played in the [College] World Series,” he explained. “Chaney [Dodge] played in Regionals, Eric Callahan, [Logan Verrino], so I have guys that had experience, and that experience showing the younger guys—you can’t put a price on that.

“They’re just unfazed,” Brosnan added. “They get a little bit of adversity, they get right back in.”

Game two of the series on Tuesday was a perfect example. After falling behind, 1-0, after two innings, the Aviators responded with a run of their own in the top of the third to tie it. Riverhead scored a run to go ahead in the fourth but Westhampton came right back in the fifth to score four, three of which came on a bases-clearing triple off the base of the fence in left field by Eric Callahan (Millersville), which was the deciding blow.

The Aviators scored two more runs in the eighth to take a 7-2 lead, which was more than enough for Erubiel Candelario (Marist), who shut Riverhead down in the ninth. The final play of the game was fittingly a ground ball to Callahan at short, who threw on to first for the out—and the Aviators celebrated with a dog pile in the infield.

Callahan was named the Most Valuable Player of the series. He had a solid championship series, driving in eight runs and playing a stout defense, but his overall postseason line was impressive as well: a .438 batting average with a home run, 10 RBIs and five runs scored.

“That goes to my teammates,” he said of the MVP award. “They get on base for me in almost every at bat. I’m just up there trying to do a job, move runners. Got a couple of pitches over the heart of the plate and made the most out of it.”

Brosnan thinks very highly of Callahan, who was a mid-season addition to the team.

“You can call me selfish but he’s by far the best player in the league,” he said. “We had him two years ago. He was a little bit of a different player two years ago, he didn’t play shortstop for us. But we saw the past two series, he’s incredible at shortstop, so getting him and Landon [Gray], those are two seniors and those are probably two pro baseball players. Adding those guys to our team, they’re in the lineup every day and they just took care of it.”

Callahan was on the Aviators in 2017 when they lost in the championship series. An injury early in the summer left him without a summer team so Brosnan and the rest of the team welcomed him.

“We actually stumbled a bit when I first got here, I think we lost three straight. And then once we all adjusted to a new guy in the lineup, we made it work, we got rolling and we got hot at the right time,” he said.

“An organization like the Aviators takes a lot of pride in what they do, it always feels good to give back to them and give them a championship to put on the banner.”

Westhampton General Manager Tom Pisaneschi said it’s tough to compare past championship teams but that the latest team may be one of the best he’s ever seen.

“We’ve had absolute studs in the past. I just think, top to bottom, this ranks as one of the best teams that I’ve had,” he said. “We had guys, Aaron Ping, some guys that just bombed away. To me, with this team, one through nine was trouble. [Brosnan] saw what we had, he set it up and he stayed with it all year. I give him all the credit in the world.”

Pisaneschi praised his housing coordinator, Carolyn Hook, and the host families without whom the team’s success would be nonexistent. He said a handful of families took two players and each one of them was at the team’s final games.

Pisaneschi said he doesn’t see Westhampton, one of the most successful teams in the league, slowing down any time soon.

“I think what happens is, when you breed a winning team, [the players] go back to their colleges and their teammates hear about it and they want to come here and they want to come to this team,” he said. “[Director of recruiting Brett Mauser] is pretty fair in divvying everything up. I think the difference is when we have a player go down or not show up and I call up Brett and say, I know this guy, that’s where it’s helped. [Former GM] Henry Bramwell, who pretty much set the bar here, did a phenomenal job. He taught me, I followed his footsteps, and I think we do everything right. And I’m not trying to boast, I just think as a group and a organization we try and do everything right.”

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