Nighthawks’ season comes to an odd end

  • Upper Valley Nighthawks manager Justin Devoid watches from the dugout during an NECBL game with North Adams at Joe Wolfe Field in North Adams, Mass., on June 16, 2021. Devoid and the Nighthawks saw their season end on Tuesday night in a 4-2 rain-shortended loss to the North Shore Navigators, a game in which Devoid had to adjust to multiple departures from his roster. Valley News — Greg Fennell

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2021 9:40:57 PM
Modified: 8/10/2021 9:41:02 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Upper Valley Nighthawks played the final game of their season Monday night. Their season came to an end Tuesday morning.

Game 2 of the Nighthawks’ NECBL North Division finals series with the North Shore Navigators at Fraser Field in Lynn, Mass., was suspended at the top of the seventh inning Monday, and later called, after a rain delay lasting more than 90 minutes. The game’s status wasn’t resolved until Tuesday morning, when the league ruled it an official game and a 4-2 Navigators win to give North Shore a 2-0 series victory.

After the game was suspended on Monday, the Nighthawks emphatically broke their huddle and players hugged each other on the field. They said goodbyes and thanked their coaches.

Nighthawks manager Justin Devoid spoke as if they’d resume on Tuesday, but players walked up to say farewell during his postgame interview. It was a matter of when the game would be called off, not if.

The issue was with the league office. The teams made a request to the league around midnight on Monday, when commissioner Sean McGrath was driving back home from watching a South Division final game in Danbury, Conn. McGrath said the request required the league’s executive team to review the circumstances and collectively decide on a resolution, and he wasn’t going to demand that meeting at 1:30 a.m. after he got home.

Other NECBL teams dealt with roster attrition during the playoffs, but none to the extent the Nighthawks did. They were forced to start four pitchers (Nick Cantone, Jordy Allard, Henry Leake, Alex Theis) in their batting order Monday, after starting three in Sunday’s 5-0 series-opening loss. With so many players already gone, and more leaving early this week, team president Noah Crane knew his squad had a slim chance of winning the series. But he said the games had to happen, mainly for competitive fairness to whoever the Navigators will face in the finals. And he said Game 1 at Maxfield Sports Complex was a positive as well, despite the odd lineup.

“We were glad to play the games, give our fans one last home game, (an) opportunity to say goodbye to players, and one more night at the Max, and give the guys an opportunity to play, too,” Crane said. “I know our pitchers had a fun time; that last game was really enjoyable. A lot of them, that’ll be the last time they hit for the rest of their lives. So I think there’s more to it than just winning playoff games.”

The exact number of players the Nighthawks would’ve had available for a Tuesday game was uncertain. Devoid thought they would’ve had just eight guys left. General manager Matt Wright said catcher Parker Haskin flew home Tuesday and would have done so even if the Nighthawks won Monday night. That left the team without a backstop, making the idea of playing Tuesday a logistical nightmare.

Part of the reason for the Nighthawks’ messy roster is that it consisted largely of players from southern and midwestern colleges that start their fall seasons earlier than New Englanders do. The other part was a changed playoff format that allowed all 14 teams to qualify, to ensure competitive balance in light of any COVID-19 situations.

McGrath said expanding the playoffs was the right call. He said roster crunches during summer collegiate baseball are normal in all leagues, and it’s on the teams to manage it and build rosters that can withstand it. He didn’t mince words for the teams negatively affected by the expanded playoffs.

“I think those organizations need to look at themselves in the mirror,” McGrath said. “Keene Swamp Bats had 28 players in the dugout. Danbury Westerners had 14 pitchers on the roster. There’s lots of teams that are well-positioned, and that comes down to leadership and that comes down to working with your players and making sure that they’re playing for the name on the front of the jersey.”

Despite all the issues, Crane said this Nighthawks campaign was successful. After missing the 2020 season, he said, just playing baseball at all was a victory. The Nighthawks achieved their goals of improving their players and entertaining their fans, and the messy roster heading into the North Division finals doesn’t dampen the achievement of reaching the series for the first time in team history.

After the game was suspended, Devoid told his team how much he appreciated them and enjoyed coaching them.

“This has been the most terrific group that I’ve been around, playing or coaching. And it’s a really special group of guys,” Devoid said. “They have kept the best part about baseball alive — having fun and going out there and competing. And it’s been a blast, and I told them all that. I love every one of them. They’re awesome kids. I hope the best for all of them moving forward. And hopefully we can have some back next summer.”

Seth Tow can be reached at stow@vnews.com.




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