Needing two wins in its final four games — three of which are on the road in succession — the Keene Swamp Bats got a big one Monday in Rhode Island, beating the Newport Gulls 6-4.
Any breathing room down the stretch, after all, is a good thing.
Keene’s postseason cause was aided also when league-leading North Adams and Upper Valley, which began the night in second place one half game ahead of Keene, lost.
The Bats can still win the division outright and earn a first-round bye. They play today at North Adams, which is 24-16. Monday’s win jumps the Bats to 24-17. Upper Valley is 23-17, and now one back of North Adams and a half game back of Keene.
The NECBL has a knack for producing this kind of late-season drama.
The top three teams in each division advance to the playoffs.
Newport is now 0-2 against Keene. It lost earlier Monday, 5-0, to Ocean State in a makeup game. The contest ended one hour before Newport players trotted back onto the field to play Keene.
Even still, with the two losses, Newport has a firm grip on second place in the Southern Division and has a lock on a playoff spot. The league’s newest entry, Martha’s Vineyard, leads the division at 25-15.
Monday, Keene rapped out 10 hits, five for extra bases. After plating two second-inning runs, Keene was never headed. Those runs came off the lively bat of Randy Bednar, who stroked a two-run, 400-foot moonshot to left at Cardines Field, his eighth blast this season. He finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs.
Up 2-1 going into the top of the fourth, it was another long ball, this time off the bat of Will Wagner, that restored the Bats’ two-run edge. It was Wagner’s seventh home run.
Newport matched the run in the bottom of the frame, but Bednar’s bat answered again in the fifth, when his double to left brought home Tommy Joseph from first.
Bednar now has 36 RBIs on the season, second to teammate David Bedgood, who knocked in his 40th run in the game with a sacrifice fly in the ninth, a big insurance run it turned out.
Bednar and Bedgood are a proving to be a menace at the top of the Keene order with their combined 76 RBIs and their long-ball presence. Both, too, are batting .340 or better.
In fact, the first five batters in Tuesday’s lineup Monday came in — and left — batting better than .300.
Bedgood, the RBI machine, was the only Keene player not to have a hit Monday.
In the sixth, Keene beat up Gulls reliever Jordan Marks, when catcher Seth Caddell launched his 11th hit of the season deep to right, scoring Kyle Ball to make it 5-2.
Caddell was 1-for-3; the hit was his first in nearly three and a half weeks.
Keene starter Luke Albright went four strong innings, scattering five hits and allowing just two runs, one on a Colton Bender home run, Bender’s first of the summer.
Johnathan Edwards took it from there and was flawless in three innings of relief, but Michael Bacica, battling fatigue from Saturday’s appearance, was knocked around for two runs in the eighth.
Bender feasted on Keene pitching, going 3-for-5 with a double, homer and single. He reached base in four out of five plate appearances.
With two outs, Bacica looked ready to end the contest, but Scott Holzwasser, after doubling down the right field line, scored on a Hudson Haskin triple, cutting the deficit to 5-4.
Bednar’s sacrifice fly got one back, and Justin Willis ultimately got his seventh save of the season but not without one more Newport rally.
A hit batsman and infield single put to runners on and brought Bender back to the plate. The tense result was a 10-pitch battle that Willis won, with a 3-2 slider for a strikeout.
Three pitches later, Joseph Bellini grounded into a 4-6 fielder’s choice to end the game.
The Bats closing out Monday’s win was no small deal. The Gulls have 13 come-from-behind wins, two extra-inning wins and three walk-off victories. And the team has a 9-4 record in games decided by one or two runs. The Gulls close their season with away games against Upper Valley (23-16) and Winnipesaukee (11-26) on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, and a home showdown against Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday. ...
Newport is a six-time league champion. Keene, meanwhile, is
gunning to win its first NECBL title since 2013.
In all, Keene and Newport had 15 players chosen to Sunday’s league All-Star Game, which was rained out in the second inning. ...
Besides Bednar, lead-off batter Kevin Welsh and Caddell also
had doubles for Keene Monday. ...
The Bats actually had more strikeouts (11) than hits Monday.Newport starter Garrett Schmeltz had eight of the 11 in 5.1 innings’ work.