Home and happy, Nighthawks end three-game skid

  • David Marcano (11) 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: 7/24/2019 10:05:06 PM
Modified: 7/24/2019 10:10:53 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A few days away from the ballpark seems to have been enough to get the Upper Valley Nighthawks in the right frame of mind, with a desperate fight for their playoff lives looming over the next seven days.

Upper Valley exploded for seven runs in the sixth inning — all with two outs — to snap a three-game losing streak, and a string of tough losses to the NECBL Northern Division basement-dwelling Winnipesaukee Muskrats. The 9-5 win on Wednesday night came in front of an announced crowd of 481 at the Maxfield Sports Complex.

David Marcano (NJIT) laced a two-run double to left field, Jeff Costello (Northeastern) tagged a two-run single to center field and NECBL All-Star Cole Frederick (Jacksonville State) bolted a bases-clearing, three-run double in the rally, turning a three-run deficit into a four-run lead.

The win improved the Nighthawks to 21-15 with eight games remaining in the regular season, keeping pace in the five-team race for the Northern Division’s three playoff spots.

It was also Upper Valley’s first victory since clinching the Governor’s Cup over the Vermont Mountaineers on July 17, which preceded three losses, all by one run. The Nighthawks host the Mountaineers on Thursday night at Maxfield for the final meeting between the two in-state rivals.

“As soon as we put up two runs, I felt fine,” Nighthawks head coach Keller Bradford said. “Even when they went up, 5-2, I knew we were going to come around. I knew we were going to score. I didn’t feel like their pitching was going to be able to hold us in this park. Not that we’re going to hit a bunch of home runs or anything, but we usually play well at home.”

It was Upper Valley’s second consecutive victory over a Muskrats squad, which despite its struggles, has given the Nighthawks all they could handle. The Hawks needed four runs in the final two innings in a come-from-behind 8-7 win over Winnipesaukee on July 14, and were outscored, 15-9, in back-to-back losses on June 22 and July 2.

Wednesday’s game was no different, highlighted by a strong start by Muskrats starter Alex Schwartz, who scattered six hits and struck out one over five innings of work. Winnipesukaee’s offense gave the visitors a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning as it took advantage of three consecutive walks by Upper Valley starter Devin Beckley (Citadel).

Dan Bolt (Bradley) cut the deficit with a two-run home run, his fifth of the summer, as Winnipesaukee took a 3-2 lead into the fifth. The Muskrats made it 5-2 in the fifth with a two-run single by Tatem Levins.

“It’s one of those things, it happens in baseball more than any other sport, you play down to your competition,” Bradford said. “You look at the standings and those guys aren’t as high as we are. We play down a little bit, I feel like.

“But they’re a good team, they really are. They run the bases really well. They do a lot of good things. … And their pitching has really shut us down for the most part for most of this year.”

Schwartz was pulled after five innings — the Bolt home run was his only blemish. That’s when Upper Valley’s offense woke up: seven runs on three hits and five walks against Winnipesaukee’s bullpen gave the hosts a lead, 9-5.

The Hawks never looked back, adding two insurance runs in the eighth inning on back-to-back hits by Frederick and Anthony Quirion (Lamar).

The Nighthawks have never lost a season series to Winnipesaukee in their four-year history, wrapping up their 2019 meetings with the Muskrats with a 3-2 lead.

Frederick finished the game 3-for-4 with a walk, four RBIs and two runs scored for the Nighthawks, while built his league-leading batting average to .419. Costello was 3-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBIs; he is batting .333 in just nine games since joining the club from a short stint in the Cape Cod League. Marcano was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and scored a run.

Alvin Melendez (Fordham), the returning Nighthawk in his season debut, was 1-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored.

“We’re trying to balance playing our best lineup versus giving everybody some playing time,” Bradford said. “Everybody on this team can contribute and they have. … Yeah, it was a little bit close, but we pulled away in the end.”

Will Carnley (Troy) is scheduled to start against the Mountaineers on Thursday night. Game time is 6 p.m.

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

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