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A long drive for a newcomer, and a victory for the Nighthawks

  • Nighthawks pitcher and Hartford High alumnus Jordy Allard winds up to throw in the third inning of their game against North Adams in White River Junction, Vt., on June 28, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • North Adams first baseman Kevin Brophy tries to catch Nighthawks' Easton Kirk off of the base on a throw from catcher Sam Punzi in the fourth inning of their game in White River Junction, Vt., on June 28, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks infielders Cole Frederick, left, and Adam Smith turn a double-play on North Adams' Brian Picone and his teammate in the fourth inning of their game in White River Junction, Vt., on June 28, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nighthawks pitcher Phillip Sanderson mans a water hose to dampen the base paths and the pitcher's mound before their game with North Adams in White River Junction, Vt., on June 28, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, June 28, 2019

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A near-spotless defensive gem by the Upper Valley Nighthawks against the NECBL Northern Division leading North Adams SteepleCats on Friday night was almost enough to erase the memory of an eighth-inning collapse from the night before.

The question now is if Upper Valley can keep the victories rolling in, with a string of bumps and bruises ready to decimate its roster as the season nears the halfway mark.

A power-hitting reinforcement may have arrived just in time.

Easton Kirk, the Troy University commit from Wallace State Community College, was 2-for-2 with a run scored and two walks in his Nighthawks debut as Upper Valley’s pitching staff strung together its third shutout of the year, 5-0, over North Adams at the Maxfield Sports Complex.

“I wasn’t really going to play summer ball this summer, I was going to take it off,” said Kirk, who drove near 20 hours and arrived in the Upper Valley on Thursday night. “I got a call from the coach and I heard about the league and stuff. I said, ‘Well, I might as well go. It’ll be a good experience. It’s a great time up there.’ Hoping I enjoy it the rest of the summer. I think I will.”

The Nighthawks improved to 9-7 overall, 24 hours after falling to the Valley Blue Sox, 3-1, after they entered the eighth with a 1-0 lead. The win also kept Upper Valley in the mix of what is turning into a very crowded picture atop the Northern Division standings — with five teams within 1½ games of each other.

The Nighthawks also scattered 11 hits, the fourth time in five games their offense has managed 10 or more knocks. They travel to Goodall Park to take on the Sanford Mainers on Saturday night, and return home to face the Valley Blue Sox at 5 p.m on Sunday.

“Yesterday, the story of the game was we didn’t score enough runs,” Upper Valley head coach Keller Bradford said. “In the last four games, when we scored at least five or more, except for last night. Tonight, they responded. They came out, swinging the bat from the first inning on.”

The win comes as a list of Upper Valley injuries continues to grow longer. Avery George (Lamar) remains out with a lower body injury, Anthony Quirion (Lamar) missed his second game with a hand injury. Brooks Gosswein, the lefty pitcher from Bradley, is scheduled to go home after suffering an injury in his throwing arm.

“We just have to have guys step up,” Bradford said of the injuries. “Guys who haven’t seen too many at-bats or who haven’t seen the field as much as they would like to, those are the guys we’re going to be depending on here moving forward.”

Upper Valley scored its runs in bunches, taking a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Andrew Cossetti (St. Joseph’s) started it off with a forced walk after starting the count with two strikes, loading the bases for Adam Smith (UNC-Wilmington). Smith drilled the first pitch he saw for a two-run double into left field driving in Cole Frederick (Jacksonville State) and Kirk.

“As a nine-hole hitter, you’ve just got to expect fastballs early,” Smith said. “I wasn’t really expecting much. I jumped on that fastball real quick and got it down the line.”

The Nighthawks added to their lead in the fifth, with David Marcano (NJIT) driving in Greg Hardison (UNC-Greensboro) with a two-out single into left field. That pulled North Adams starter Tyler Hays, who allowed seven hits, four walks and struck out three in 4⅔ innings.

Kirk, the next batter, hit an infield single that North Adams couldn’t come up with, allowing two more runs to score. Upper Valley led, 5-0, after the fifth inning.

After that, it was all pitching and defense.

Jordy Allard (Babson) was solid in his first start of the summer, going the first four innings with two hits, two walks and a strikeout. Devin Beckley (Citadel) pitched the next three, striking out two and allowing two hits. Davis Mikell (Castleton) struck out two in the final two innings, allowing a walk in the ninth inning.

Smith, the shortstop, ended the game by pulling an unassisted double play.

“As a unit, we talk a lot,” Smith said of Upper Valley’s infield unit that includes Frederick, Marcano and Brian Moore, who had the night off. “We’re very vocal. We know how we are as a group. It’s very smooth in the infield as a whole.”

Added Bradford: “We struggled (in the infield) for the first five games. But we’ve found our footing. … The infield is really solidified.”

Frederick, the reigning NECBL hitter of the week, was 1-for-4 with two runs scored and a walk for the Nighthawks. Marcano was 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Cossetti had a hit and two walks.

“(Kirk) fills out the lineup for sure; he makes the lineup really long,” Bradford said. “We have guys like Smitty (Smith) and (Jack) Zyska the last few games who have been coming around in the bottom of the lineup, providing some offense. (Kirk) just adds to that.”

Jordan DiValerio (St. Joseph’s) is scheduled to get the start against Sanford on Saturday. Will Carnley (Troy) will start on the mound against the Blue Sox on Sunday. Upper Valley has a scheduled day off on Monday.

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