That’s a Wrap: Nighthawks Clinch Division Title

  • The Upper Valley Nighthawks celebrate after winning the game between the Nighthawks and Sanford Mainers at Maxfield Sports Complex, in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Upper Valley Nighthawks' Cameron Alldred pitches during a game between the Nighthawks and Sanford Mainers at Maxfield Sports Complex, in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Upper Valley Nighthawks' Matt Sanders dives to first base during a game between the Nighthawks and Sanford Mainers at Maxfield Sports Complex, in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2017 11:57:36 PM
Modified: 7/28/2017 6:20:07 PM

White River Junction — The Upper Valley Nighthawks are kings of the north.

Troy University shortstop Matt Sanders broke a scoreless tie with an RBI double in the eighth inning on Thursday night at the Maxfield Sports Complex, sending Harvard’s Matt Rothenberg home from second base for the evening’s only run.

Cory Gill, the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s save leader and Upper Valley’s closer, also from Troy, then shut the door with back-to-back strikeouts with the go-ahead run on second base to secure a 1-0 win over the Sanford Mainers, helping Upper Valley clinch the No. 1 seed in the NECBL’s Northern Division playoffs for the first time.

“It felt like a playoff atmosphere,” said Upper Valley head coach Jason Szafarski, with the Nighthawks playing their victory anthem, Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, in the background. “It almost felt like we had to win tonight just to keep things rolling.

“I always knew (the No. 1 seed) was possible,” he added. “This is a tight-knit group. That’s the main thing. We don’t have any signs of guys wanting to shut it down or leave early. This is a special group for that fact. This is probably the best group I’ve ever been around in summer ball.”

Upper Valley (28-13) secured a first-round bye in the NECBL playoffs and will spend the next week awaiting its opponent in the Northern Division finals, a three-game series set to begin at home a week from tonight. The second- and third-place teams, according to the NECBL’s new postseason rules, will meet in a one-game playoff for the chance to face the first-place Nighthawks.

Szafarski’s group has only three games left in the regular season, plus Sunday’s NECBL All-Star Game at North Adams’ Joe Wolfe Field, a stretch that he admitted the Nighthawks will use to balance resting key athletes while staying fine-tuned for the playoff run.

“As much as you want to be careful, you don’t want to go into the playoffs flat-footed,” he said. “You can’t sit a bunch of guys. You still want to keep that winning mojo alive. ... I don’t want us to go into the playoffs too rested so that they lose that edge about them.”

Part of the magic around this summer’s Nighthawks can be found in their ability to manufacture wins. In early June, victories came by knocking opponents out early and often. In the last two weeks, Upper Valley’s tenacity has shined through, mixing offensive patience with a dominating pitching presence good enough to win championships.

Or at least set records: Thursday’s shutout was the Hawks’ 10th of the season, breaking the 2003 mark of the Torrington (Conn.) Twisters.

“Just wanting to win and doing whatever it takes to win,” Szafarski said. “The last three games, just having to execute those bunts in those situations, that’s why we won. Doing small ball, moving guys over, coming up with those big hits. It’s almost been contagious, putting guys in scoring position and then someone coming up with a big hit. Tonight, it was Matt Sanders.”

Nighthawks starter Cam Alldred (Cincinnati) struggled in the fifth inning, but was otherwise solid through seven, allowing only three hits and one walk with six strikeouts. Sanford’s Mark Connor (Clarkson), a St. Albans, Vt., native, was just as good, allowing only two hits with three strikeouts in six innings for the fifth-place Mainers, who needed a win to stay in the playoff picture.

Sanford went to the bullpen in the seventh with Ben Lambert (Assumption), who struck out one and gave up a hit in one inning, maintaining the scoreless contest. The Mainers’ Jake Dexter (Southern Maine) wasn’t as lucky, giving up an unearned run in the eighth for his first loss of the summer.

Rothenberg, the Crimson infielder who joined the team late this week at the NECBL signing deadline, led off the eighth by reaching base on an error by Sanford second baseman Ryland Kerr (Eastern Kentucky). The Nighthawks’ Ethan Harris (SNHU) moved Rothenberg to second on a sacrifice bunt before Sanders launched a screaming fly ball into the gap between left and center field for his 14th RBI of the summer and his first since July 18.

“That first guy (Connor), he was a little deceptive or something,” Sanders said. “Our whole team has come through at some point.”

Gill came close to blowing his first save of the summer with Upper Valley holding the slim ninth-inning lead, walking Sanford’s Jimmy Kerr (Michigan) and giving up a single to Shaine Hughes (Monmouth) to put runners on second and third with one out. Gill struck out Bryan Sturges (Texas Christian) and Riley Pittman (Arkansas Little Rock) to end the threat for his ninth save.

“I always have to make it interesting, in case you couldn’t tell,” Gill said with a smile.

Kody Gardere, one of four new pitchers added to the Nighthawks roster early this week, registered his first win by throwing a scoreless eighth inning. Szafarski has only three more games to see what his new pitchers can do before the postseason starts, and he said they all should get plenty of playing time in the next few days.

Until late next week, the Nighthawks undertake a game of planning. Who rests? Who plays? What will their postseason lineup look like?

First place is theirs. Time will soon tell what they can do with it.

Notes: Marist University power-hitter Frankie Gregoire returned the lineup after missing nine games with a strained hamstring sustained in the first game of Upper Valley’s doubleheader with the Valley Blue Sox on July 16. Gregoire, who was 0-for-3 as the designated hitter, said his timing and his swing both felt good, but running is still an issue. He’ll likely spend the next week as Upper Valley’s DH as he continues to get back to 100 percent. … Luke Reynolds traveled with family to Toronto on Wednesday and missed Thursday’s game, though he’s expected to be back on Saturday. … Newcomer Connor Rowland (Palm Beach Atlantic) was 1-for-3 with two strikeouts and is batting .455 in his first three games in an Upper Valley uniform. … New pitcher Jacob Nappi, a lefty from Felician College, is scheduled to make his Upper Valley debut today when the Nighthawks travel to Winnipesaukee Muskrats’ Robbie Mills Field.

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




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy