Nighthawks outlast Mountaineers in extras, snap five-game skid

  • After extra innings, the Upper Valley Nighthawks celebrate their 9-8 win over the Vermont Mountaineers on Thursday, July 14, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Upper Valley Nighthawks' Tyler Long slides into home plate before Vermont Mountaineers catcher Nathan Goranson gets the out during a makeup game on Thursday, July 13, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. The Nighthawks won 9-8 in extra innings. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • Manager Mat Pause relieves starting pitcher Pat Gardner in the fourth inning during their game with the Vermont Mountaineers on Thursday, July 13, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. The Nighthawks won 9-8 in extra innings. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • At third base, Upper Valley Nighthawks' Dylan Palmer shows off his sliding mitt to Vermont Mountaineers' Santino Rosso during their game on Thursday, July 13, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Both players attend Hofstra University. The Nighthawks won 9-8 in the eleventh inning.  (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Upper Valley Nighthawks' Steve Harrington, left, Matthew Russo, Evan Byers, and Kory Klingenbeck wait for the start of their makeup game with the Vermont Mountaineers on Thursday, July 13, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. The Nighthawks won 9-8 in extra innings.  (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/15/2023 8:00:25 AM
Modified: 7/15/2023 7:59:54 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — It was equal parts elation and relief when the Upper Valley Nighthawks mobbed Austin Beck in shallow right field after three hours and 40 minutes of baseball on a hot Thursday afternoon at Maxfield Sports Complex.

An infielder from Angelo State, Beck had just capped a lengthy, back-and-forth affair by lining a walk-off single to right field in the 11th inning, giving the Nighthawks a 9-8 victory over the rival Vermont Mountaineers to snap a season-long five-game losing streak.

Upper Valley now holds a three-games-to-one lead in the battle for the Governor’s Cup, the trophy awarded to the winner of the season series between the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s two Vermont teams.

“All we asked of our guys was to come to the ballpark and play hard, and we did that today for 11 innings,” Nighthawks manager Mat Pause said. “Unfortunately we lost the lead, but guys kept battling. Twice in extra innings we were down, and we still found ways to score runs. Overall it was a good day to get back in the win column.”

Back home after losing five straight games away from White River Junction, the Nighthawks (15-12) seemed poised for a relatively procedural victory, taking a 5-1 lead into the seventh inning. Ryan Cesarini (St. Joseph’s) tripled into the left-center field gap with one out in the bottom of the first, scoring on a sacrifice fly by catcher Kevin Bruggeman (Hofstra) to give Upper Valley the early lead.

Nighthawks starter Pat Gardner, a left-hander from Fairleigh Dickinson, had begun the season with the Mountaineers and was a bit all over the place against his former team, walking four batters and plunking three more over 3 ⅔ innings. But he surrendered just one run on one hit before being relieved by relief ace Nate Crider (Louisiana Tech), who lowered his ERA to 1.03 by retiring seven of the eight batters he faced.

Upper Valley manufactured a pair of runs in the third to retake the lead, then added two more in the sixth on an infield hit by Dylan Palmer (Hofstra) and heads-up baserunning from Tyler Long (Mount St. Mary’s).

“We’re not trying to change anyone’s swing,” Pause said. “We just want to try and simplify stuff. Guys were swinging at good pitches, they were getting in good counts, so that had a lot to do with it. Put the ball in play (and) good things happen.”

Pause gave the ball to Randall Alejo (College of St. Rose) in the seventh, with the intention of having the third-year Nighthawk pitch the final three innings. But the top of the Mountaineers’ order got to him immediately with four consecutive hits, making it a 5-4 game, before Alejo settled down to get through the seventh and eighth. After a leadoff double in the ninth, though, Alejo’s day was done, with Nick Monistere (Southern Mississippi) moving from second base to take over on the mound.

Vermont tied the game one batter later on a single and a misplayed ball in left field by Cesarini, who had just taken the field after starting the game as the designated hitter.

“We put (Alejo) in hoping we were going to use him for three innings,” Pause said. “It’s his third year here, so we know what we’re going to get. The biggest thing is just trust.”

With runners at second and third and two outs in the Mountaineers’ 10th, Monistere got his glove on a bouncer hit by Marshall Toole, but he ended up redirecting the ball away from the second baseman Palmer, who likely would have made the play had Monistere let the ball go past him. Instead, both runners scored to give Vermont (17-11-1) its first lead of the day. But Monistere made up for the mistake in the bottom of the inning, chopping a game-tying RBI single over a drawn-in infield to send the game to the 11th.

Christian Howe (Kentucky), coming off his worst outing of the summer in a loss at Mystic on Tuesday, worked the 11th, allowing the automatic runner on second to score but preventing further damage.

“I relied heavily on my changeup. The first few pitches, I was all over the place with my fastball,” Howe said. “That’s something I’ve learned to fall back onto, throw a changeup, getting it down in the zone.”

Upper Valley loaded the bases with nobody out in its half of the 11th but was one out from defeat when Kory Klingenbeck (Cincinnati) drew a walk to force in the tying run. Beck, who entered the game in the eighth as a defensive replacement, then delivered the game-winning hit.

The Nighthawks, currently in possession of a wild card spot for the NECBL postseason, trail the Mountaineers by a game and a half in the North Division standings. But they will claim the Governor’s Cup if they can take two of the rivals’ four remaining meetings, which will all be played at Recreation Field in Montpelier.

“In the community, it means a lot, both down here and up in Montpelier,” Pause said. “The guys buy into it. We want to go out and win every night, but these games, there’s a little extra energy in the ballpark.”

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


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