Nighthawks dealing with severe roster crunch during NECBL playoffs

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2021 9:52:08 PM
Modified: 8/8/2021 9:52:11 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Upper Valley Nighthawks advanced to the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s North Division Finals for the first time in team history. They’re playing that series with a severely limited roster.

Throughout the last week, many Nighthawks players have left the team to return to their colleges. Some late-season attrition is normal, but a roster as thin as Upper Valley’s going into Sunday’s series opener against the North Shore Navigators is not. The Nighthawks were forced to start three pitchers in their batting order Sunday.

Nighthawks manager Justin Devoid said his pitchers showed willingness to play the field and bat. But he acknowledged it’s a tough situation to manage.

“It’s pretty difficult when you go into a game with six or seven position guys,” Devoid said before Sunday’s game. “Some guys have been clear since the beginning when they had to leave, especially with the southern schools starting up pretty early. Some not as much.”

There are multiple factors contributing to the extreme roster crunch. The Nighthawks wrapped up their North Division Semifinal series against North Adams on Thursday. But game two of the other North semifinal between the Navigators and the Keene SwampBats was rained out that night, and that series went the full three games. Had that series ended earlier, several Nighthawks players might have stuck around, founder and president Noah Crane theorized.

But perhaps the bigger issue is the very existence of those semifinal series. Normally, only three teams from each division make the NECBL playoffs. But the league changed its playoff format for the 2021 season out of concerns relating to COVID-19. The league was worried about potential imbalances in the standings if a team missed some games because of a COVID outbreak, so they allowed all 14 teams to make the playoffs. The change added an extra three-game series to the schedule.

Looking back, Crane is not a fan of the move.

“The expansion of the playoffs was a terrible idea,” Crane said. “It’s hurt everybody. It’s added another three-game series, which is three more days. And then when you factor in the weather that we’ve dealt with, it’s been really, really challenging.”

Devoid said it’s unlikely any players who left would be able to return. In hindsight, he and Crane would’ve liked to have added more players to the roster before the July 25 deadline. But at that point, they had no need to add anyone. And regardless, they were unable to find host families to take in any more players.

So the Nighthawks now continue their quest for a first-ever championship relying on their pitchers even more than usual. During Sunday’s contest, Hartford High alum Jordy Allard (Northeastern) played left field, Nick Cantone (Marist) played right field, and Henry Leake (Boston College) served as designated hitter.

Allard played shortstop for the Hurricanes, and he’s used to shagging fly balls during batting practice in the outfield. He said he’s taken ground balls and fly balls during batting practice while at Babson College as well, just to work on being athletic in fielding his usual position on the mound.

He’s excited for the opportunity to play the field during big games.

“It’s kind of cool,” Allard said. “The first time I ever played on this field on Maxfield was when I was in high school and I played short, so I hit as well. And then this could possibly be the last time I play on Maxfield, and I’m going to be hitting and pitching.”

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




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