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Nighthawks’ Bats Stay Hot



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2018

White River Junction — Offense does not seem to a problem for this summer’s Upper Valley Nighthawks.

Head coach Jason Szafarski’s squad has hit 10 or more hits in four of its first six games, coupled with a pitching staff that’s spent its first week in the region displaying signs of brilliance.

Wednesday’s game against the struggling Winnipesaukee Muskrats was more of the same for the Nighthawks, who belted out 13 hits in a 8-2 walloping at the Maxfield Sports Complex.

Upper Valley extended its winning streak to four, remains undefeated at home and has outscored opponents 42-18 this summer, improving to 5-1 with the NECBL’s best record.

It also has as many runs (42) through six games this season as the Muskrats (1-6) have hits.

“Just depth in general,” Szafarski said on what makes his team so strong. “We can throw 16 or 17 arms that we know are going to throw strikes, depth in the lineup, backups coming in and doing their job, giving a guy like (infielder Greg) Hardison a day off and getting production is big to have.

“They got comfortable pretty early,” he added. “For whatever reason, we have luck getting good, quality people here. Noah (Crane, Nighthawks general manager) does a good job with that. We don’t have any cancers in the dugout, in the bullpen, anything. It took two days for these guys to get comfortable.”

Upper Valley is doing damage without one of its hottest hitters. Drew Tipton, the speedy center- fielder from Arkansas State who has batted .467 in 15 at-bats, has been out with a hip flexor since Sunday’s win over the Mystic Schooners. He is scheduled to return on Saturday.

Anthony Quirion, the Lamar University product, led the way offensively, going 3-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI. Alvin Melendez (Fordham) added three hits, a run and an RBI batting in Tipton’s place in the leadoff spot.

“I think it makes it easier on every single guy,” Quirion said. “I don’t think we’re throwing a single at-bat away, and we’re really making that other pitcher work. I think, from one to nine, we’re making the guy work and it makes it easier on us. I’m happy to be part of an offense like that, honestly.”

The Nighthawks have 10 or more hits in four of its first six contests. It strung together four runs on eight hits in the first three innings against Winnipesaukee.

Davis Mikell (Castleton) led things off with an RBI single into center field in the first inning, following up on a double steal that scored Melendez from third to give Upper Valley a 2-0 lead. In the second inning, Melendez drove in Ross Cadena (Wichita State). Anthony Meduri (Binghamton) kept the offense rolling in the third with sac fly into center field, allowing Quirion to score.

Quirion added to it with an RBI double in the fifth inning, driving in Matt Tarabek (Binghamton) from second base. Upper Valley scored two more runs in the sixth and added another in the eighth to build a eight-run lead on 13 hits

The Nighthawks managed only three hits and four runs in their last meeting with Winnipesaukee, a 4-1 win last Saturday. The difference, Quirion said, is patience.

“I think we were able to make adjustments from last game,” he said. “That’s another that contributes to the offense: the guys are making adjustments at-bat to at-bat, pitch to pitch. … Guys are adjusting and it’s paying off.”

West Georgia’s Ryan Parker was once again stellar for the Nighthawks, allowing only four hits and two walks while striking out five in five scoreless innings.

Wes Bucher got through three innings in relief unscathed before allowing two runs on three hits and a hit batter in the ninth. Jordy Allard, who admitted he was on his phone and didn’t have his shoes on when he was called from the bullpen, struck out two and forced a pop-up to center field to close out the game.

Szafarski is more than pleased with the way his team has come together in its first week. For the second time in as many seasons, his Nighthawks are the off to a hot start with a team that has wasted no time finding its chemistry.

“It’s a different guy every night, which is good to have,” Szafarski said. “Some guys will come out struggling one game, then come out and have two or threes. We don’t exactly know who it’s going to be, but we have a bunch of guys that can do it.

“The hardest part right now, honestly, is who is going to throw and who is going to be in the lineup. We have plenty of options. … I’m looking forward to seeing where this thing ends.”

Notes: Hunter Gibson got plenty of grief from his teammates after getting his first hit of the season during Tuesday’s 7-1 win over the Southern Division-leading New Bedford Bay Sox. He was 1-for-3 on Wednesday against the Muskrats with a double and a run scored. Gibson was 0-for-16 in his first four games with Upper Valley. … Add Bucher’s name to the list of Upper Valley’s walking wounded. The West Georgia product was pegged just underneath his right pectoral muscle with a screaming line drive that left him stunned. He had a noticeable bruise after the game. … Troy University pair Sadler Goodwin and Levi Thomas, as well as the University of Minnesota’s Riley Smith, all joined the team on Tuesday. Goodwin and Smith entered Wednesday’s game late. Thomas is expected to pitch this week. … Announced attendance at Maxfield was 271. … The Nighthawks host the Sanford Mainers (4-2) tonight at the Maxfield Sports Complex.

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