Nighthawks edge Blue Sox on strangest of plays

Nighthawks pitcher Patrick Gardner, left, and catcher Bear Madliak talk briefly before Gardner takes to the mound in the third inning on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Gardner, a student at Fairleigh Dickinson University, threw 3 2/3 innings of shutout ball with five strikeouts in his debut with the team on Wednesday night. 
 (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Nighthawks pitcher Patrick Gardner, left, and catcher Bear Madliak talk briefly before Gardner takes to the mound in the third inning on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Gardner, a student at Fairleigh Dickinson University, threw 3 2/3 innings of shutout ball with five strikeouts in his debut with the team on Wednesday night. (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

The Nighthawks' Dylan Palmer slides safely under the tag of Blue Sox third baseman Zach Ketterman early in their game on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Palmer scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and the Nighthawks held on to win, 7-6. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

The Nighthawks' Dylan Palmer slides safely under the tag of Blue Sox third baseman Zach Ketterman early in their game on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Palmer scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and the Nighthawks held on to win, 7-6. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Upper Valley Nighthawks pitcher Zach Rogers looks in for the sign before his windup against the Valley Blue Sox on Wednesday, July 5, 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.

Upper Valley Nighthawks pitcher Zach Rogers looks in for the sign before his windup against the Valley Blue Sox on Wednesday, July 5, 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 — Jennifer Hauck

Before the start of their game, Upper Valley Nighthawks Matthew Russo, left, Jake Bullard and Nick Monistere order maple creamees at the Mac's Maple food truck on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Justin White takes their order. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Before the start of their game, Upper Valley Nighthawks Matthew Russo, left, Jake Bullard and Nick Monistere order maple creamees at the Mac's Maple food truck on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, in White River Junction, Vt. Justin White takes their order. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-07-2023 9:17 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — As the old saying goes, if you watch baseball long enough, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.

The eventual game-winning run scoring on a ball lodged inside the catcher’s chest protector was a new one for Upper Valley Nighthawks manager Mat Pause — and likely most attendees — on a hot Wednesday night at Maxfield Sports Complex. But that’s exactly how the Nighthawks took a 7-6 lead in the eighth inning against the Valley Blue Sox, and they held on in the ninth to win by that score and improve to 13-6.

“A ball getting lodged in the catcher’s equipment, I’ve never seen that before,” Pause said. “I did know that if it got up in there, it’s technically dead, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.”

Having already coughed up leads of 3-1 and 6-3, Upper Valley put itself in position to go back in front in the eighth when Tyler Long (Mount St. Mary’s) doubled with one out and advanced to third on a single by Dylan Palmer (Hofstra). Leadoff hitter Adarius Myers (Louisiana Tech) hit a grounder to third, and although Long was tagged out after a brief rundown, he stayed in it long enough for Palmer to move all the way to third base with two outs.

The first pitch to Nick Monistere (Southern Mississippi) bounced in the dirt and ended up stuck between Blue Sox catcher Mason Wolf’s chest protector and his body. By rule, if a pitched ball gets lodged inside the catcher’s gear and stays there, all runners advance one base. The first-base umpire was right on top of the play, making the correct call immediately, and Palmer came in to score the go-ahead run.

Monistere, a two-way player this spring for the Golden Eagles, then pitched the ninth to earn the save, ending the game with a strikeout to strand two runners in scoring position.

Run, baby, run

Pause and the Nighthawks’ coaching staff noticed in film study that Blue Sox starting pitcher Graham Jeffries was slow to home plate with his windup. So Upper Valley’s baserunners took full advantage, stealing seven bases without being caught in the four innings Jeffries was in the game.

Monistere drew three walks in the first four innings and stole second after each one. Palmer, after reaching on a fielder’s choice in the second inning, stole both second and third, and it paid off as all it took was a groundout to second by Myers to bring him home.

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“My philosophy was go until we got someone (caught),” Pause said. “The guys they brought in later in the game, we had to shut it down a little more because they were a lot quicker to the plate. But (Jeffries), he was really slow to the plate, and we knew we had a lot of guys who could run, so we tried to take advantage of it.”

The Nighthawks also hit multiple home runs in a game for just the second time this summer. Myers hit a leadoff blast in the first for his second of the season, a laser beam to left that traveled 381 feet. Shortstop Chris Worcester (Eastern Illinois) launched a three-run shot just inside the left-field foul pole in the fourth, his first of the year, to give Upper Valley a 6-3 lead.

“(Myers) has been swinging it well all summer. He got into that one,” Pause said. “Chris has been coming on the last couple weeks, so glad he was able to get one.

“It’s warmer; the ball tends to carry a little more. We’re swinging the bats a lot better. Guys are in midseason form, so to speak.”

Gardner shines in debut

Nighthawks starter Zach Rogers (Colby-Sawyer College) gave up a run in the first inning and pitched a clean second but completely lost his command in the third, walking three straight batters with one out and then plunking a man with the bases loaded to force in a run. That marked the end of his outing, with left-hander Patrick Gardner (Fairleigh Dickinson) making his Upper Valley debut out of the bullpen.

Gardner began the summer with the rival Vermont Mountaineers, making three appearances including one against the Nighthawks on June 10. But he said a miscommunication with the Vermont coaching staff led to him leaving the Mountaineers, and Upper Valley signed him on Saturday.

Inheriting a bases-loaded situation, Gardner induced a weak grounder to first for the second out, which brought home the tying run. He then got a strikeout to end the inning and proceeded to shut down the Blue Sox for the next three frames. Using a combination of two-seam fastballs and sliders, Gardner allowed two hits over 3⅔ scoreless innings, striking out five without issuing a walk.

“I definitely felt good coming in my first time out here,” Gardner said. “You come into situation like that, you have to throw strikes right away. Good things happen when you throw strikes.”

Gardner was in line for the win when he handed the ball to Chase Adams (Southern Mississippi) with a three-run lead in the seventh. But Adams faced four hitters without retiring a single one, hitting the leadoff batter with a pitch and then allowing three consecutive hits to tie the game. Pause quickly replaced him with Christian Howe (Kentucky), who retired the next three Blue Sox to keep the game tied.

Louisiana Tech right-hander Nate Crider pitched a perfect eighth to earn the win, and Monistere closed it out after walking the tightrope a bit in the ninth.

Busy road ahead

After an off day Thursday, the Nighthawks will play 13 games in 10 days starting with a Friday doubleheader against Danbury. Thanks to a bevy of early rainouts, Upper Valley will play six more doubleheaders — all on the road — between Saturday and July 21.

The demanding stretch will certainly test the Nighthawks’ pitching depth, especially if players begin to leave town before the season ends to take time to rest up for the new school year, as had been the case the last two summers. Last year, Upper Valley added seven players late in the season to replace those who left early, including Myers; similar roster churn may be necessary this time around.

“We’re in a really good position with our pitchers. We have enough arms,” Pause said.

“We’re not too worried about it right now. We’ve been really lucky so far, we haven’t had any injuries, so especially going into this weekend and next week, it’s going to be big for us to make sure everyone’s ready.”

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