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Nighthawks Notes: NECBL Stint Pays Off for Perfect Pitcher

  • Danny Wirchansky, shown pitching for the Upper Valley Nighthawks against the Keene Swamp Bats last season, recently tossed a perfect game for Pace University. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks player Danny Wirchansky (33) at Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt., on June 7, 2017. Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford senior Jordy Allard in West Lebanon, N.H., on May 29, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Joseph Denison. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks player Ryan Jeffers (27) at Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt., on June 7, 2017. Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks player Ashton Raines (19) at Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt., on June 7, 2017. Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks player Matt Sanders (8) at Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt., on June 7, 2017. Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Upper Valley Nighthawks coach Jason Szafarski in Hartford, Vt., on June 8, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • AJ Walden. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, April 05, 2018

Pace University junior Danny Wirchansky was working his way through a 16-strikeout perfect game against Dominican College last month when he started having flashbacks to the previous summer.

The Upper Valley Nighthawks ace had been two outs away from a perfect game against the North Adams SteepleCats on July 12 at the Maxfield Sports Complex, but the no-no bid was spoiled by Pace teammate Michael Gulino.

Eight months later, Wirchansky finished the job. It was his time with the Nighthawks, he said, that changed his career.

Wirchansky, the Stony Brook, N.Y., native, retired all 27 batters, striking out a career-high 16 for his first career perfect game in Pace’s season opener. He’s been the Setters’ dominant hurler ever since, leading the team with a 4-1 record in five starts. He has a 0.64 ERA, 51 strikeouts and two complete games in 42 innings.

He was also named East Region Pitcher of the Week by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on March 28 and ECAC Pitcher of the Week on March 13.

“It’s definitely a shock considering last year wasn’t so great,” Wirchansky said by phone on Tuesday. “I will say that going to the NECBL was one of the best things I ever did. It was a huge help improving my stats and as a player.”

Wirchansky has come a long way since joining Pace as a mid-year transfer last season; the spring was his first at a new school after transferring to the NCAA Division II institution from Rockland Community College. He was on a new team, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, trying to prove something. He finished the spring with a 4-5 record with a 3.31 ERA in 13 appearances, 11 of them starts.

His time with the Nighthawks was a chance to fine-tune his game. But Wirchansky’s confidence was shot, he admitted. He wasn’t sure summer baseball was the right move.

“Last year, there were definitely concerns about me coming to the Nighthawks,” he said. “My dad and I were actually talking about me not going up, just taking the summer off to work out.”

He decided to go, in the end. Wirchansky, against a plethora of NCAA Division I competition, quickly became one of Upper Valley’s most consistent pitchers. He finished the summer 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA. He struck out 26 and allowed 31 hits in 39⅓ innings and seven starts. He also was named an NECBL All-Star, pitching one inning in the showcase at North Adams, Mass., on July 30.

“Going to the NECBL, it was kind of like a clean slate,” Wirchansky said. “Everyone was new, I could basically just be myself and learn things about myself. I definitely improved as a baseball player. … I was getting past people, they were swinging and missing. It gave me more confidence. It was definitely a confidence boost.”

He also knows that continued success could change his baseball future.

“I’ve seen a few scouts at my games,” he said. “I think I have a good future in baseball. Hopefully, the time will come where I see my name on a draft board.”

Wirchansky has already signed on to join the Nighthawks this summer, a decision that was a lot easier the second time around.

“I texted Noah (Crane, general manager) and said I was trying to figure it out, that I’d loved my time in the Upper Valley and would love to come back,” he said. “It was honestly one of the best summers I’ve ever had. … He sent me a contract. It was fast.”

It’ll be tough to gauge what Wirchansky will have left in the tank once the NECBL season begins in early June; he’s working at a torrid pace and eating up plenty of innings as Pace’s No. 1 starter. But Wirchansky said his health feels good one month into the spring season thanks to a more determined rehab routine that has kept his arm in top shape.

“I can’t wait to be back in the Upper Valley,” he said.

Alumni Update: The first few weeks of the season have been a whirlwind for University of Houston junior outfielder Grayson Padgett.

Padgett’s cousin, Blaine, a defensive end for Rice University’s football team, was found dead in his apartment on March 2. The cause of death at the time was unknown. Blaine was 21. Padgett missed three games before rejoining the Cougars on March 10 in a game against San Diego, where he hit a 12th inning, walk-off home run to give Houston a 4-3 win. It was Padgett’s first home run of the season and third of his career.

“My BROTHER was with me tonight,” Padgett tweeted after the game. “I could feel him with me every pitch. I know you’re smiling down on me right now, Blaine.”

Padgett, who played for the Nighthawks in 2016 and was forced to stay home with an injury last summer, is batting .224 in 21 games for the Cougars this spring with 19 hits, eight runs and five RBIs.

University of Alabama–Huntsville catcher A.J. Walden became the program’s career leader for home runs with a solo shot in the first inning against Tuskegee (Ala.) University. Walden leads the Chargers with 10 home runs, has hit at least 10 in each of his four seasons with the team and is batting .409 through 34 games this spring. The Albertville, Ala., native and member of the 2016 Nighthawks is tied for first among active NCAA D-II players with 47 career home runs.

Matt Sanders, the Troy University senior shortstop who played for Upper Valley last season, is tied for the NCAA D-I lead for runs scored this spring with 42. Only Alex Junior of Tennessee Tech has scored as many runs as Sanders this spring. The Madison, Ala., native leads the Trojans with a .328 batting average and 42 hits in 28 games.

Right behind Sanders on the team is two-time Nighthawk Joey Denison, who was forced to leave the Upper Valley early last summer with an injury. Denison is batting .365 with 38 hits, 11 doubles and 35 RBIs in 28 games for the Trojans.

University of North Carolina–Wilmington catcher Ryan Jeffers is tied for fourth in D-I with 14 doubles in 28 games. He’s batting .353 for the Seahawks with 36 hits.

Bloomsburg University starting pitcher Ashton Raines was named Atlantic Region Pitcher of the Week by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on Tuesday following his first collegiate complete-game shutout over Shippensburg University last week. Raines, who was 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA for Upper Valley last summer, is currently 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA for the Huskies.

Back in Action: Upper Valley Nighthawks head coach Jason Szafarski is signed on to return this summer for another season at the helm. The Saint Michael’s College coach has led the Purple Knights to a 5-16 record so far.

Lipscomb University first baseman Cade Sorrells and Plymouth State hurler David Sampson have also signed on to return to Upper Valley this summer. Sorrells is batting .255 in 27 games for the Bison. Sampson is 2-1 with a 5.09 ERA in four starts.

Hartford High graduate and Southern New Hampshire University freshman Jordy Allard also is slated to join the club, as is CVU grad, Williston, Vt., native and Castleton State University junior Davis Mikell. Mikell is hitting .291 for the Spartans with 16 hits, 13 runs and 15 RBIs in 15 games. Allard has seen limited time in his first season, striking out four in three games and four innings of work.

Just 60 Days Away: The Nighthawks start the 2018 season on a three-game road trip, beginning June 5 against the Ocean State Waves. The team will open up at home on June 9 against the Winnipesaukee Muskrats, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Maxfield Sports Complex.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.