Just like that, Nighthawks’ season is done

  • Andrew DeRoche (19) of the Upper Valley Nighthawks poses for a portrait at the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt., on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/1/2019 10:06:03 PM
Modified: 8/1/2019 10:07:54 PM

HOLYOKE, Mass. — The Upper Valley Nighthawks, for the third consecutive summer, saw their season come to a halt on the infield grass of Mackenzie Stadium. As if the Nighthawks needed any more bad memories on the home turf of its New England Collegiate Baseball League Northern Division rival.

This time, the pain might linger with the club for a little while.

Upper Valley, which held a 2½ game lead for the NECBL’s third and final playoff berth early last week, completed its late-season collapse on Thursday night in a 6-0 loss to the Valley Blue Sox in its regular season finale.

It was the Nighthawks’ fourth loss in their last five games. When the dust settled, the Nighthawks, who fell into fourth place only twice this summer, dropped four of their last five regular-season games and were knocked out of playoff contention for the second consecutive season.

The Nighthawks finish the summer 24-20 overall, in fifth place in the North.

Andrew DeRoche (Trinity) struggled mightily in his fifth start of the season, a must-win for an Upper Valley squad that entered the game tied with the Vermont Mountaineers (24-19) and a half-game up on the Blue Sox (23-18-1) for third in the North. Nighthawks bats were once again silent, managing only one hit with four runners on. No Nighthawk reached past second base.

“It’s a long summer, these guys are tired. It happens,” Nighthawks first-year head coach Keller Bradford said. “We played a lot of games straight, a lot of games without breaks, a lot less off-days than we had earlier in the season. It caught up with us.”

The loss is just the latest in a long list of painful results at Valley’s Mackenzie Stadium, a house of horrors for Upper Valley in its four-year history. The Nighthawks lost Game 2 of their Northern Division playoff series there, ending the impressive 2017 campaign, and dropped their regular season finale there last summer.

Upper Valley is 2-10 all-time at the Blue Sox’ home field.

“It’s always disappointing to finish the season with a loss,” said David Marcano, the NJIT infielder who played Thursday’s with a broken left thumb. “Only one team finishes with a win. We were wishing it was us but it happens. We did what we could, played our hardest all throughout the season. It’s just unfortunate to end like this.”

Valley, the two-time NECBL defending champions, has won five straight. It hosts North Adams on Friday, with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.

Upper Valley’s collapse started with a Governor’s Cup celebration at the Vermont Mountaineers’ Recreation Field on July 17, and several departures to its offense in the same week. Easton Kirk (Troy) — the power-hitting mid-season addition — went home on July 15 with right knee injury. Days later, Gehrig Anglin (Wright State) — the NECBL leader in stolen bases and Upper Valley’s lead-off hitter — left the squad to attend to a personal matter. Dan Bolt (Bradley) also left the team a few weeks later.

The result was a reshaped lineup that never seemed to find any traction. Upper Valley suffered three consecutive one-run losses against the Sanford Mainers (12-11), Martha’s Vineyard Sharks (5-4) and Keene Swamp Bats (7-6) following the departures of Kirk and Anglin. The Nighthawks finished the regular season 4-8 in its last 12 after the Governor’s Cup win.

“Losing those three bats in the middle of our lineup for so long with Gehrig and Easton and Bolt, that hurts us,” Bradford said. “The team that wins this thing and sticks it out is the team that keeps all their guys healthy and keeps all their guys here. Unfortunately for us, we lost a few guys that were key to our success.”

Added Marcano: “That brought the team down, a little bit. But it happens to every summer ball team.”

On Thursday, Upper Valley — fatigued and understaffed — had little left in the tank.

Starting pitcher DeRoche walked the first two batters he faced and gave up a sacrifice fly to Valley’s Richard Constantine (Western Kentucky), putting the Nighthawks in an early hole, 1-0. In the second, DeRoche loaded the bases on two walks and a hit before Upper Valley shortstop Adam Smith (UNC-Wilmington) failed to come with a ground ball up the middle. Two Blue Sox runners scored, putting Valley up, 3-0, after two innings.

Paxton Thompson (Bradley) took over in the third, giving up a two-out, two-run double to Valley’s John Marti (Delaware) for a 5-0 Blue Sox lead. But Thompson settled in, giving four scattered hits over the next three scoreless innings. Aaron Ernst (Wright State) struck out six before a pop-up to shallow center field scored a Valley insurance run in the eighth inning.

But the Nighthawks hitters were nowhere to be found. They managed just one hit, a single by Anthony Quirion (Lamar) in the fourth against Valley starter Lane Flemm (Xavier), who struck out seven. Blue Sox relievers Lucas Sweaney (Pacific) and Sean Hupp (South Carolina Upstate) shut the door in the eighth and ninth.

“The fact that so many teams are so good for the duration of the season is a testament to this league,” Bradford said. “It’s tough. It’s tough to win, it’s tough to even make the playoffs. I felt like we had a playoff-caliber team. We just fell short just a little bit.”

Cole Frederick (Jacksonville State), the league’s hitting leader, reigning NECBL hitter of the week and potential league MVP candidate, finished his season 3-for-19 in his last five games. Quirion finished his summer 7-for-39 in his last nine games.

“I’d definitely consider coming back,” said Marcano, who has two years left of eligibility. “Everyone here was hospitable. It was an amazing time here this summer. I learned a lot.”

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

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