Is it playoff baseball already?
Not yet, but it felt like it Monday at Alumni Field as the Keene baseball team lost to Goffstown, 6-4, in a competitive game between two top-level Division I programs.
Sharik Khan tied the game in the bottom of the sixth inning on an RBI single, scoring Alex Charles, but the Grizzlies plated two runs in the top of the seventh — on a suicide squeeze — and the Blackbirds came up empty in the bottom half after a few close strike three calls left Liam Conley stranded on second base.
“I thought we played OK,” said head coach Dan Moylan. “[Goffstown] had some timely hits, they’re a good ball team. Overall, we just have to play better. We haven’t been scoring a ton of runs against good pitchers.”
The Blackbirds (7-2) had to finish the game without Moylan, as he was ejected in the top of the seventh inning after confronting the home plate umpire about a questionable call. There was nothing memorable about Moylan’s visit to home plate, yet — after Moylan was already back in the dugout — the coach was sent packing for the final half inning of play.
Moylan did not comment on the ejection after the game.
Both teams came out swinging right away, as Goffstown’s Aiden O’Connell singled off Keene starter Jonah Frost on the first pitch of the game.
Frost lacked control for much of his outing and was pulled after just 2.1 innings in the middle of an at-bat, with his shoulder visibly bothering him. There was no update on Frost after the game.
O’Connell came around to score in that first inning and gave Goffstown an early lead, but Keene answered quickly, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first.
Conley got things going for the Blackbirds in the bottom of the first with a textbook at-bat, fighting back from down 0-2 to draw a walk in the leadoff spot. Cal Tiani eventually hit him home, and Peter Haas and Charles scored later in the inning as well, both on wild pitches.
Keene didn’t cross the plate again until the sixth inning, on Khan’s game-tying RBI single.
Zach Mooers came in to pitch after Frost was pulled in the third inning. Getting Mooers in was the original plan, Moylan said.
“It wasn’t like we were way out of the box coming with Mooers,” Moylan said.
Mooers went the remaining 4.2 innings and gave up four runs (three earned) on four hits while striking out six batters.
The senior closed the door on the third, pitched a 1-2-3 fourth, then, with two outs in the fifth, Mooers walked a batter and gave up a two-run home run to Goffstown’s Ryan Strand, which gave the Grizzlies a 4-3 lead.
Keene came back to tie the game, but Goffstown’s suicide squeeze turned out to be the game-winner. Mooers tried to make a play at home on the bunt, but the throw went to the backstop which allowed the second run to score.
“Unfortunate,” Moylan said. “I think the squeeze works out for them, but if we keep that to one run it might feel a little better going into the bottom.”
Defensively, the Blackbirds were forced into a new look after Mooers came in from shortstop to pitch, because some players were unavailable Monday, Moylan said.
Haas moved from second base to shortstop, the only player on Monday’s roster who can play shortstop, and made some impressive plays to keep Keene in the game.
“He was all we had tonight available to play shortstop,” Moylan said. “That’s the first time I think I’ve ever seen him play shortstop. He’s played really well defensively in the field for us this year.
“We’ve got guys that can play multiple positions,” Moylan added. “So, we have to get guys in different spots.”
Conley moved from right field to play second base, Khan went from left field to right field, and Tanner Payne came in to play left field during the big defensive shift.
Khan showed some arm strength in right field, gunning down a runner at home on a sacrifice fly to end the third inning.
The Blackbirds get another crack at Goffstown Wednesday in Goffstown at 4:30 p.m. Moylan said the plan is to have one of the Haas brothers get the nod.
“We just have to play better and just get back to playing some games,” Moylan said. “We’re still 7-2, we feel good about where we’re at. We’re a good ballclub. … We’ll just keep plugging away.”