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Nighthawks’ Woes Drag On

  • Trent Leimkuehler (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
Tuesday, July 12, 2016

 

White River Junction — Many of the Upper Valley Nighthawks feel like they can’t catch a break. When things go wrong, like they have more often than not in the last two weeks, there’s a familiar sense of inevitability that sinks into their minds.

Deja vu was in full effect against the Plymouth Pilgrims (12-15) on Tuesday night as the Nighthawks fell 9-5 at Maxfield Sports Complex.

The Nighthawks (10-16) have lost eight of their last nine games and have fallen into another losing streak after breaking its six-game skid against North Adams last Friday. Upper Valley will play the slumping SteepleCats on the road tonight with steady arm Houston Mabray on the mound.

“We’re not playing good baseball right now,” manager Nick Cenatiempo said. “All around.”

If it’s not one thing that hurts the Nighthawks, it’s another. On Tuesday, it was shaky pitching performances from Billy Layne, Avery Fliger and Jarod Yoakam. The struggles of Layne, making his first start in more than a year, quickly scrapped Upper Valley’s game plan.

After walking lead-off batter Brian Sharp, Layne made a wild throw to first base on a bunt by the Pilgrims’ Jeremy Pena. Sharp easily scored from first base as Layne’s throw ended up in right field, putting Upper Valley in an early hole.

An error by Nighthawks shortstop Matt Maul and another walk by Layne ended his outing after one-third of an inning.

Layne spun around after making the errant throw and appeared to twist his ankle. He was on the trainer’s table with ice on his right foot after being pulled in the first inning. Upper Valley allowed two runs on no hits and three errors in the top of the inning.

“When you look at it, we have six games in five days, we need someone to fill that void,” Cenatiempo said. “I thought we could probably get three or four (innings) out of (Layne), to get him the start and also get him some experience starting. We needed someone to start, and we thought he was the right guy to go with.”

Wes Engle and Avery Fliger relieved in an attempt to stop the bleeding, but the pair combined to allow three earned runs and seven hits in 4 innings. Engle, who replaced Layne in the first inning, recorded four strikeouts in 3 innings.

Upper Valley has used nine pitchers in its last two games, including five on Tuesday.

“It depletes your whole bullpen for the week,” Cenatiempo said. “It dramatically affects it for the whole week.”

Upper Valley answered with some quick offense in the bottom of the first inning, retaking the lead with four runs on six hits. Trent Leimkuehler flexed a clutch gene with a two-out double into deep center field, bringing home Joey Denison and Grayson Padgett. Al Molina and Zack Canada each drove in runs, putting the Nighthawks on top, 4-2.

Upper Valley struggled offensively 24 hours earlier, a four-hit, 4-0 loss at home to the Ocean State Waves. The Nighthawks’ offense took no time surpassing that, but it wasn’t enough.

“We just got to keep battling back and battling back,” Nighthawks designated hitter Trent Leimkuehler said. “We’re kind of hitting that midway point. … If we keep grinding it out, we’ll find something. It’s either hitting is not there or the pitching is not there. It’s one or the other.”

Leimkuehler and relief pitcher Brian Lau were the Nighthawks’ only bright spots Tuesday night. Leimkuehler, still recovering from a hamstring injury that has bothered him all summer, was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs. During the game, Leimkuehler sat with Cenatiempo and Upper Vallley’s coaching staff. In between innings, he was the first out of the dugout to greet his teammates.

“I’m finally getting into a groove again,” Leimkuehler said. “It’s kind of hard when you play two games, then you sit out. I feel like I’m getting my swing back. It feels good.”

“It feels a lot better,” Leimkuehler added on his hamstring. “I’m doing some different treatment now.”

For Lau, who pitched 3 innings and allowed one hit, two walks and recorded four strikeouts, the personal stats are encouraging. But like many of his bullpen teammates, Lau said, getting a chance to help turn things around is his top priority.

“It’s hard because it’s summer,” Lau said. “The guys here, they want to get better. Sometimes that comes first. But at the same time everyone here is an athlete first. Doesn’t matter (if) you’re playing video games or you’re out here, you want to win in everything you do. It’s tricky.

“Like today, we finally throw up some zeros and in the eighth inning, I beat a guy with a pitch and hits off the heel of a glove down the line for a double. It’s like, come on. When things are going good, that doesn’t happen.”

 

Notes: Plymouth’s No. 9 hitter, Damon Haecker, entered Tuesday’s game batting .118. He was 3-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI vs. Upper Valley. … Charlie Concannon and Walker Grisanti were given the night off against Plymouth. … Catcher Lukas Ray and outfielder Shea Sullivan, both newcomers, got their first starts in Upper Valley uniforms on Tuesday. Ray was 1-for-4 with an RBI. Sullivan got his first hit as a Nighthawk in the bottom of the second inning. … Alex Hanson made his first appearance in three games in the seventh inning after twisting his ankle last Wednesday on the road against the Pilgrims.

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