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Nighthawks’ Ignoffo messing with NECBL pitchers

  • Ryan Ignoffo is welcomed home by Tyler Sorrentino, left, Clay Stearns, front right, and Max Grant, back right, after hitting a home run against the Swamp Bats at Maxfield Sports Complex in Hartford, Vt., on Thursday, June 30, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

  • Ryan Ignoffo, left, talks with Nighthawks hitting coach Mat Pause, right, during their game with the Swamp Bats at Maxfield Sports Complex in Hartford, Vt., on Thursday, June 30, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/5/2022 8:31:47 PM
Modified: 7/5/2022 8:29:09 PM

As Ryan Ignoffo stepped to the plate in the eighth inning of the Upper Valley Nighthawks’ game against the Danbury Westerners on June 26, a kid in the stands offered up a prediction as to what might happen next: a dinger.

Based on Ignoffo’s recent performances, it was not as bold a prediction as it may have seemed. The Eastern Illinois University product, after a slow start to the New England Collegiate Baseball League season, was a week removed from a power surge in which he hit five home runs in four games. But although Ignoffo’s bat had stayed hot since then, nine of his 11 hits that week had been singles.

On an 0-1 pitch, Ignoffo lifted a towering fly ball toward the left-field corner. It looked like it was too high and would stay in the park, especially with the deep foul lines at Maxfield Sports Complex. But the young fan proved prophetic. Danbury’s left fielder could only watch as the ball dropped just on the other side of the fence for a three-run shot, putting the finishing touches on a seven-run inning as the Nighthawks won their fourth straight game.

“His confidence is so high right now,” Nighthawks manager Justin Devoid said. “He’s saying to himself that he’s going to do it and the pitcher’s not going to get him out. When you’re on a roll, that’s really what happens.”

Ignoffo grew up in Crystal Lake, Ill., an outer northwest suburb of Chicago, playing football in addition to baseball in his youth before focusing solely on the latter at Cary-Grove High School. As a junior in 2017, he hit .405, then a year later came into his own as a power hitter with 19 doubles, eight home runs and 51 RBIs. But Ignoffo also pitches in addition to hitting and playing the infield and outfield, and he wanted a college program that would allow him to continue to develop as a two-way player.

In coach Jason Anderson and Eastern Illinois, he found just that. Ignoffo battled injuries with the Panthers — a torn quad early in his freshman year, a dislocated shoulder as a junior — and also had to deal with his sophomore season ending after just 14 games due to COVID-19. But he put up an OPS of 1.118 in 39 plate appearances as a freshman, leading to a summer opportunity with the Quincy (Ill.) Gems of the wood-bat Prospect League.

“He had a lot of tools,” Anderson said. “We just had to take our time and figure out the proper way to develop him. He’s moved around quite a bit, because he’s really talented. He’s played second, first, out field, now third, pitched. Now he’s at a point where he’s successful at all of them.”

Ignoffo batted .297 with four homers and 18 RBI in 34 Prospect League games, then saw limited playing time the next two years at EIU due to injuries and the pandemic. He moved to the more prestigious Northwoods League, playing for the Fond du Lac (Wis.) Dock Spiders last summer, and struggled there, hitting just .211 with only three extra-base hits.

Even so, Ignoffo said the experience was worthwhile because he learned from accomplished college hitters like Georgia Tech’s Chandler Simpson, who led all of college baseball with a .433 batting average in 2022, and West Virginia’s Victor Scott. Whatever wisdom those players passed along seems to have made a difference — Ignoffo, finally healthy, broke out this past spring for the Panthers, batting .395 and slugging .708 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs in 44 games.

“This past year was one of my first full seasons, and I felt like myself my freshman year before I hurt my quad,” Ignoffo said.

“Although I didn’t hit the best in the Northwoods, I felt like this year I took a big step forward and became more of a hitter, and I wanted to come out here and show that I could do it against East Coast guys.”

Through his first five games as a Nighthawk, Ignoffo was just 2-for-18. But after sitting out the first game of a doubleheader at Martha’s Vineyard on June 15, Ignoffo had his first multi-hit game of the summer in the nightcap, as well as his first home run. That kicked off his five-homer, four-game stretch, capped by a two-homer performance at North Adams in which he drove in nine runs to help Upper Valley set a franchise record for runs in a game with 19.

The Nighthawks have also utilized Ignoffo’s positional versatility. Over his four years at EIU, Ignoffo has worked 23⅔ innings on the mound, and he made three pitching appearances early in the NECBL season, allowing two earned runs in four innings. He was penciled in as the primary first baseman to start the year, but when third baseman Nicholas Wang sustained a foot injury, Ignoffo took over at the hot corner, and he’s handled the position with aplomb.

“My first three years in college, I played right field, and I took a lot of balls in center and left to get comfortable with the outfield,” Ignoffo said. “I played infield when I grew up, so I had that experience to play all over the field. I haven’t played third base in college, so it took quite a bit to get adjusted, but it’s fun.”

No matter where he plays, Ignoffo’s bat has demanded that he play every day. Since those first five games, he’s an incredible 32-for-61 (a .525 average) over his last 15 contests and now leads the NECBL in all three triple crown categories with a .430 batting average, eight home runs and 37 RBIs. No other run producer is within 13 RBIs of Ignoffo’s current mark.

The fans have taken notice. Ignoffo has fast become a fan favorite at Maxfield, with Nighthawk supporters giving him nicknames like “Iggy Pop.” When he comes to bat with runners in scoring position, it’s been almost a given that Ignoffo will bring at least one teammate home.

His RBI prowess has benefited the hitters in front of him — Nighthawks leadoff man Tyler Sorrentino is second in the league with 22 runs scored, and No. 2 batter Max Grant is also in the top 10.

“It all starts with a deep breath and trying to slow the game down as much as possible,” Ignoffo said. “I get anxious when I do see guys in scoring position, but those are the moments I live for. I just try to base my at-bats on how the pitcher has attacked me previously.

“A lot of the time so far in this league, pitchers like to get ahead with the fastball, so I look fastball early in the count, and then they try to put me away with the breaking ball.”

Ignoffo has a medical redshirt year from the NCAA as a result of his injuries, plus the extra year all spring-sport athletes were offered due to COVID, so he has two remaining years of college eligibility.

For now, though, he’s content with setting the NECBL on fire, winning his second Player of the Week award on Monday.

“I attribute it a lot to his work ethic and willingness to change what he was doing and change his approach,” Devoid said. “It took him a little bit to get his timing down and get adjusted to the wood bats, (which are) obviously less forgiving than metal bats.

“Now, it looks like he can hit anything. All his takes are really competitive, and he’s just having very good at-bats.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.


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