It’s official: The Keene Swamp Bats are playoff-bound.
The Bats went into the final week of the regular season with a rested pitching staff — an exception to the rule relative to most of the condensed summer season, and it paid big dividends.
Keene got its third straight mound gem in as many days, this time from UConn product Joseph Simeone, to defeat Ocean State, 5-1, and lock up the postseason berth.
For the Bats, they secure a playoff spot and keep their thin lead on North Adams atop the Northern Division standings.
Upper Valley and Vermont are two back of Keene (26-17) with one to go, Valley two and a half. Upper Valley has already won season series from the Mountaineers and Blue Sox.
After three clutch consecutive road wins, the Bats close their regular season at home tonight against Vermont.
Keene has not sewed up first place, however, which comes with a first-round bye. A win tonight would do that. But a loss would leave the door open for North Adams, which has three to play still.
The NECBL’s regular season concludes Friday.
In tiebreaker scenarios, Keene holds the edge over Upper Valley and Vermont, but not North Adams, which travels to Maine tonight and then goes to Holyoke, Mass., Friday for a twin bill against the Valley Blue Sox.
Wednesday, Simeone bordered on greatness in collecting his second win. He worked 6.1 innings, striking out 10, scattering four hits and allowing just the one run.
The Bats scored one run in the first inning and never trailed. The early marker came courtesy of Randy Bednar, who deposited a 3-1 pitch over the fence for his ninth homer this season. The University of Maryland standout finished 3-for-4 and is batting .319. Bednar has also driven in 40 runs.
The Bats didn’t score again until the fifth, on another home run, a one-out blast from Andrew McNeil, his sixth.
The Bats tacked on three more in the top of the ninth, and again it was Bednar striking the big blow, a bases-clearing double. Bednar’s hit scored Seth Caddell, MacNeil and David Matthews.
Simeone’s 10 Ks gave him the team lead for the season (59), passing teammate Luke Albright, Monday’s starter.
The right-hander’s lone blemish was giving up a home run to Garrett Hodges, his fourth, in the sixth inning. It cut Keene’s lead to 2-1 at the time.
Simeone walked just one and improved his ERA to 2.89.
Michael Bacica and Justin Willis closed out the win, combining for three more strikeouts. The three Bats pitchers teamed for a four-hitter. No Waves player had more than one hit.
The Bats needed all of Simeone and the work of their two relievers on this night. Aside from Bednar and MacNeil, Logan Mathieu had the only other Keene hit.
Seamus Brazill of Hofstra was the tough-luck loser. He went six innings and surrendered just a pair of hits. But the Ocean State offense never delivered for him, despite chances. It left five runners on base.
Bednar completed his highlight-reel night with his glove, making a leaping catch to rob Matt Lonardo of a possible extra-base hit in the eighth.
A crowd of 1,152 turned out; the game was played one minute shy of three hours.
At Hartford, Vt., the Mystic Schooners clinched a spot in the playoffs with a 10-1 win over the Upper Valley Nighthawks in the first game of a double-header Wednesday.
Mystic (22-20) lost the second game 3-2. The Schooners will play in a South Division wild-card playoff game Saturday.
UConn teammates Ben Maycock and Will Lucas each had two-run singles in a five-run fourth inning for the Schooners in the opener. Tyler Schoff (Bryant) was the winning pitcher, allowing two hits and one run over six innings with six strikeouts and no walks.
In Game 2, the Schooners were held to two hits and scored both of their runs in the top of the seventh inning.
In the South Division, Martha’s Vineyard clings to one-game lead over six-time league champion Newport. Both teams have one game to play, tonight. Newport is in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire to play Winnipesaukee, and Martha’s Vineyard stays home to host Mystic.