Rough Ride for Mustangs

“we need to close out innings.”
Khalil Denson, a switch-hitting Barry University sophomore, was welcomed home by his teammates after homering far over the fence in right in the third inning, tying Saturday’s game at 2-2. Jack Graves

Jason Szafarski, who coaches the Montauk Mustangs, a first-year entry in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, said following Saturday afternoon’s 4-3 loss here to the Shelter Island Bucks that “we need to close out innings.”

Playing before 60 or so spectators who sat atop a berm behind home plate at the Montauk School, the Mustangs gave up two unearned runs to the visitors in the top of the third inning, the result of a home run that just made it over the floppy three-foot fence in which the lanky right fielder, Ryan Crowley, had briefly become entangled.

Szafarski, who coached the University of Tampa to a third-place finish in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division II tournament this past season, came out to talk with the umpires about the call, but relented when told Trevor Freeman’s poke had indeed made it over the fence, which Szafarski during a pregame conversation had said was about 310 feet from home plate.

Freeman’s homer made it 2-0 Shelter Island, though the Mustangs came back for two runs of their own in the bottom half. Following a pitcher-to-first groundout, Joey Palladino lashed a double into the gap between center and right. After overrunning second, it looked as if he were dead meat, but an errant relay throw to third enabled him to come all the way around. One out later, Khalil Denson, the switch-hitting shortstop, hit a real home run well over the right-field fence.

And so it stood until in the top of the sixth the visitors tacked on another run as the result of a single ripped through the right side by the cleanup hitter, Darien McLemore, that scored Freeman, who’d led off with a single and had stolen second thanks to an off-the-mark throw there by the catcher, Nick Fanneron.

Fanneron drove one up the middle in leading off the bottom half, but a great play by Shelter Island’s shortstop robbed him of a base hit.

Victor Sorrento then lined a single to left, and, following a Shelter Island pitching change, Mike Palladino, who had come in to run for Sorrento and had stolen second, came around with the game-tying run when the visitors’ first baseman couldn’t haul in Griffin Ganick’s high pop into shallow right.

Sean Meekins, the Mustangs’ 6-foot-4-inch starter who goes to Trinity College, continued pitching into the top of the seventh, but was taken out after the visitors put runners at first and second with no outs as the result of a single and a misplayed one-hopper that bounced over the third baseman Deilyn Guzman’s head.

Later, Guzman, a Dominican-born East Hampton High School grad who’s coming off a successful season at Molloy, said he had learned from his mistake. “No, I wasn’t expecting a bunt,” he said in reply to a question, “but I should have been in farther.”

With T.J. Santiago, an Adelphi sophomore, on in relief, an infield error allowed the Bucks to load the bases. Santiago followed up with a strikeout, but he hit the next batter, Will Savage, which allowed the winning run to walk home from third.

Crowley singled on an 0-2 pitch to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Joey Palladino’s sacrifice bunt moved him up, after which Daniel Tunchez, the Bucks’ closer, got Joey Bartosic, the leadoff hitter, on a popup to second, and following a wild pitch that enabled Crowley to advance to third Denson drew a walk. That put runners at the corners with two outs for Fanneron. But Tunchez retired the Mustangs’ catcher on a groundout to clinch the 4-3 win.

It was the second 4-3 loss in a row for the Mustangs, who had earlier in the week been overtaken by the Westhampton Aviators in their last at-bat.

As of Monday, the Mustangs were in last place in the H.C.B.L., at 4-7, but were only three games behind league-leading Riverhead (6-3).

Bob Aspenleiter, who put the Montauk team together and is its general manager, said that he was, in the absence of any other volunteer hosts, putting up most of the players.

“The center fielder, a pitcher, and a shortstop who’s injured are staying with us,” said Maureen Rutkowski, whose husband, Dave, is the assistant G.M.

“We had over 150 at the first game,” she said. “The school is thrilled with the work they’ve done on the field, and the community has been supportive.”

“It’s been exciting seeing this level of play after so many years of Little League,” she continued. “It’s been exciting — for the kids especially — to see.”

Guzman, who was off after the game to work as a waiter at the La Brisa restaurant nearby, and who hopes to be drafted by a Major League team next year, said he thought the Mustangs had as good a chance as anyone to finish first in league play.

“Our starting pitching has been great, offensively we’ve been good, we’ve just got to shore it up a bit defensively,” said Szafarski, whose Tampa team went 54-4 this past season before losing to Southern Indiana, the eventual champion, and Colorado Mesa in the N.C.A.A. Division II world series.