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We’re Past Tense: Hawks, Blue Sox Battle in Playoff Preview

  • Upper Valley Nighthawks' pitcher Cameron Alldred (left) bumps fists with Cade Sorrells during a game between the Nighthawks and Sanford Mainers at Maxfield Sports Complex, in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Upper Valley Nighthawks' Matt Sanders dives to first base during a game between the Nighthawks and Sanford Mainers at Maxfield Sports Complex, in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Upper Valley Nighthawks' Cameron Alldred pitches during a game between the Nighthawks and Sanford Mainers at Maxfield Sports Complex, in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Upper Valley Nighthawks celebrate after winning the game between the Nighthawks and Sanford Mainers at Maxfield Sports Complex, in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, July 30, 2017

White River Junction — Saturday’s game against the Valley Blue Sox wasn’t supposed to matter.

Both the first-place Upper Valley Nighthawks and their Northern Division foes had playoff spots locked up headed into the contest; a win or loss wouldn’t change anything in the standings.

Upper Valley head coach Jason Szafarski talked during the week about resting his guys to keep them healthy ahead of what many at the Maxfield Sports Complex expect to be a restless run at the team’s first NECBL title.

Then the Blue Sox came to town.

Saturday’s contest, a 10-9 Valley win that took 13 innings to complete, featured controversy, an ejection, chirping between dugouts, a bullpen distraction down the first-base line and a lengthy finish. But the final score was secondary to the rivalry brewing between the North’s top two teams. The season-best 687 fans in attendance were treated to a slice of the gritty animosity this Interstate 91 rivalry has become.

Next time these teams meet, in a potential Northern Division final series on Friday, summer seasons could be on the line. And you thought Saturday night was out of control.

This postseason warmup went back and forth before things got wild.

The Nighthawks used nine hits — four doubles and a triple — and some mental errors by the Blue Sox defense (a dropped line drive in right field in the first inning) to build a 6-2 lead after three innings. A triple from Anthony Godino (Wagner) in the first put the Nighthawks on scoreboard. RBIs from Matt Rothenberg (Harvard) and Matt Sanders (Troy) in the second inning and an RBI double from Rothenberg in the third gave Upper Valley the lead, carrying over momentum from a 10-6 win over the Winnipesaukee Muskrats the night before.

Valley’s resilient offense rallied in the top of the fourth to tie the game, 6-6. James McConnon’s two-run double in the fifth gave the Nighthawks their second lead of the night, 8-6.

The Blue Sox got it back and more in the sixth, taking their first lead at 9-8 off of back-to-back singles from Delano (Brown) and Alex Rodriguez (Trinity). A Godino four-bagger — a deep shot into right-center field that was officially scored a triple and an error — tied the game in the sixth.

The score stayed tied until Valley’s Michael Wroth (American International) hit a one-out triple in the top of the 13th inning. Mac Wilson, the next batter, drove Wroth in with a single to center field, the first run scored since mid-game.

“The back end of their bullpen is very good. You saw that tonight,” Szafarski said. “The main thing is limiting those mistakes to the point where, if we have a lead, you can’t give it back. That’s what we did tonight, overthrowing the cut, just giving them opportunities that, if we had them buried, just kept scoring, or at least held them there.”

Kody Gardere (Indian River State) took the loss, giving up two hits and a run to four batters in the 13th inning. The Nighthawks (29-14) used seven pitchers.

“It’s two good ballclubs that are pretty evenly matched,” Szafarski said. “If they win the play-in game, we play those guys. I expect that series to be pretty heated at times, but it will be good baseball.”

Notes: Upper Valley’s bullpen led a yoga session midway through the 12th inning in front of the home dugout and a group of Valley players responded with a game of duck-duck-goose as the two squads made some fun out of a late-season marathon, trying to spark a rally. … Will Carnley, the Troy reliever, will not be part of Upper Valley’s bullpen contingent in the playoffs as he returns home Monday to attend a family reunion. … Luke Reynolds returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing two games while making a family trip to Toronto to attend a Blue Jays game. … Upper Valley finishes its regular season on Tuesday on the road against the Plymouth Pilgrims.

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