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Ouch, That Hurts: Hawks Fall Out of Playoff Position

  • Nighthawks Riley Smith pitches a ground ball from his glove to first baseman Davis Mikell during their game with Sanford in White River Junction, Vt., on July 30, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks Gregory Hardison keeps an eye on his bunt as he runs to first during their game with Sanford in White River Junction, Vt., on July 30, 2018. Hardison was called safe at first. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks players AJ Franklin, left, Jordan DiValerio, and Jordy Allard sell 50-50 raffle tickets during their game with Sanford in White River Junction, Vt., on July 30, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

White River Junction — All the Upper Valley Nighthawks can do now is watch the scoreboard and hope things fall in their favor.

The Nighthawks, in a three-way race with the Sanford Mainers and Keene Swamp Bats for the final two playoff spots in the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Northern Division, gave up 14 hits to the Mainers in a 8-5 loss on Monday night at the Maxfield Sports Complex. Sanford (22-17) entered the game with the league’s worst offense, batting .225 collectively; it was their first game since July 7 with more than 12 hits.

The loss hurt more in the standings, dropping Upper Valley (22-19) into fourth place in the North — a full game behind the Mainers, a half-game behind Keene — with three games remaining. The defeat also gave Sanford the tie-breaking season series win, 3-2, meaning the Nighthawks will need to have a better record at the conclusion of the regular season to finish above Sanford in the standings. Upper Valley hosts a doubleheader today against the Valley Blue Sox beginning at 4:40 p.m.

Both Sanford and Keene still have games in hand, and both face a brutal final stretch to get in as many makeup games as possible before the NECBL postseason begins on Friday.

The Mainers have back-to-back doubleheaders against four different teams over the next two days — two games at home today and back-to-back road games on Wednesday — before closing out the season at home on Thursday.

The Swamp Bats have a home tripleheader against the North Adams SteepleCats beginning at 2 p.m. today, 24 hours after winning an 11-inning thriller over the Ocean State Waves, 9-8, on Monday at Alumni Field. Sanford and Keene will play each other on Wednesday.

Upper Valley faces none of the late-season chaos that their Northern Division foes have to navigate, leaving head coach Jason Szafarski still feeling confident about his team’s chances. But Monday’s loss did the Nighthawks few favors.

“I definitely think it’s an advantage,” Szafarski said. “We have as many games left as Keene has tomorrow. For them, it’s tough. Everyone is kind of banged up. Arms are tired. Guys are sore. Hopefully we can get through tomorrow, get a split there. If we take two, that’s a bonus.

“Every game is important right now moving forward,” he added. “You don’t want to drop those games and then hope for a tiebreaker in the end. You’ve got to win and take care of business.”

Sanford took a 5-1 lead after the first five innings, capped off by a two-run fifth-inning home run by TCU’s John Rizer. Nighthawks starter Stephen Hansen (Iona) gave up seven hits, four runs and a walk over five innings, striking out three in his first start of the summer.

Upper Valley stormed back, scoring four runs over the next two frames to tie the game, 5-5. Elon’s Ty Adcock started things off with a bases-loaded sac fly in the sixth. Wichita State’s Ross Cadena kept the rally going ith a RBI single into right field. In the seventh, North Florida third baseman Chris Berry’s RBI double drove in Minnesota’s Riley Smith from first base. Lamar infielder Anthony Quirion’s two-out two-bagger into left field drove in Berry from second base.

But Sanford found its offense again in the ninth, scoring three runs off Nighthawks closer A.J. Franklin (Vanderbilt) on three hits, one walk and an error. 

Mainers left fielder Shane Marshall (Binghamton) did the most damage, going 4-for-5 on the night. Presbyterian College’s Jon White was walked three times and scored four runs against Upper Valley.

“I thought we came out a little flat; I don’t know if it was the off day yesterday,” Szafarski said. “Early on, we had opportunities and didn’t score and got down, 5-1, against a good bullpen. We showed heart, a lot of character coming back. It made the game interested.”

Smith had his best game in a Nighthawks uniform. He started things off with his first home run of the summer and finished the game 2-for-3 with two runs scored, a walk and a double.

The Nighthawks now must wait and see how things shake out around them. The good news is their next two opponents find themselves in secure positions: Valley clinched the division’s regular-season title on Monday, having been atop the North since late June. Winnipesaukee, Upper Valley’s opponent for Wednesday’s finale, sits in last place in the division and will have little to play for other than spoiler.

“We’ve just got to see what happens down the stretch,” Szafarski said. “I still like our odds with (Keene and Sanford) having to play so many games.”

Cole Stetzar (Saint Joseph’s) returns the mound for Game 1 of today’s doubleheader, trying to finish what he started during Friday’s suspended game against the Blue Sox. Upper Valley will begin Game 1 with a 2-0 lead with two outs in the top of the fifth inning and runners on first and second. Game 2 will be a seven-inning contest.

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