It’s well-known around the NECBL that Alumni Field is a hitters’ ballpark, and the Keene SwampBats proved it Monday night, hitting five homeruns in a 9-6 win over the North Shore Navigators.
Five different SwampBats hit homeruns in the regular season finale.
“Good way to end,” said Keene manager Shaun McKenna. “We got everyone involved. Timely hits, some long balls. It was nice to see.”
Noah Martinez kickstarted the offense with a three-run moonshot in the first inning, which hit the big barn in rightfield. It traveled 370 feet.
“It definitely set the tone,” Martinez said. “I felt like that kept the momentum going throughout the game. Getting the early lead eases our tension going throughout the game.
“We were pretty relaxed,” Martinez added about the game that did not mean anything to the SwampBats’ standings. “Everyone was happy to play. It was more, ‘relax, have fun, be competitive,’ but it wasn’t too serious.”
Troy Schreffler and Matt Almonte each had solo homers in the third inning, then Drake Westcott hit a two-run homerun in the fifth.
The ball stayed in the park until the seventh inning when Zach Bushling hit his seventh homerun of the season.
Omar Daniels accounted for the other run, an RBI single in the third inning. Daniels’ RBI was the only run that did not come from a homerun.
The SwampBats raced out to a 3-0 lead after Martinez’s homerun in the bottom of the first inning. A two-out walk from Tommy Joseph, followed by a single by Schreffler, put two runners on base for Martinez, who got ahold of a fastball from Navigators’ starter Graham Jeffries.
North Shore scored three runs in the third to tie the game after Jake McElroy, Jacob Gustin and Lucas Bravo recorded consecutive RBIs at the top of the Navigators’ lineup. North Shore had a chance to add more runs in the inning, but a stellar defensive play from Martinez ended the inning. The first baseman caught a pop-up in foul territory — right along the wall of the Alumni Field bleachers — then threw over to Mike Nyisztor at third base to catch Bravo trying to tag up on the pop out.
The double play killed any momentum the Navigators had built up in that inning.
The SwampBats took a 6-3 lead after the third inning. Schreffler started the scoring in the inning with a solo homerun — his second hit and second run scored on the day — then Almonte hit a solo homerun — his first homerun of the season — then Daniels scored Drake Westcott on an RBI single.
Keene didn’t let up the lead for the rest of the game as the bullpen came out and combined to pitch 5.1 innings. The SwampBat bullpen only allowed one run that came across in the ninth.
Adam Grintz pitched 2.1 innings and picked up the win, taking over for starter Taylor Lepard. Grintz retired all seven batters he faced.
“When [Grintz is] down in the zone and he can spin it like that for strikes, he’s going to get guys out,” McKenna said.
Grintz handed the ball off to Lucas Rich, who had not pitched since July 15. Rich went the rest of the way to earn the save.
“Lucas came in at the end and pitched well,” McKenna said. “Really happy for the kid. He’s a worker, for sure. And it was working today.
“It was definitely our plan to get him in the game at some point,” McKenna added.
The SwampBats’ defensive positioning looked a bit different than normal, with Mike Nysiztor starting off at third base. The normal outfielder committed two errors in the infield, which led to a few runs, but it didn’t make much of a difference in the end.
Axel Melendez came in to play third base in the sixth inning and Jared Payne took over for Martinez at first base in the eighth.
Cam Chamberlain filled in behind the plate in the seventh inning. It was the Marlborough native’s first appearance in a SwampBat uniform, and he was one batter away from getting his first plate appearance of the season — something the entire Keene dugout was audibly rooting for as Chamberlain was in the on-deck circle.
“I was hoping he could get an at-bat,” McKenna said with a smile.
Monday marked the end of the regular season in the NECBL. While the six other Northern Division teams will play an elimination game Tuesday, Keene (26-15) has the day off before hosting Game 1 of the Northern Division semifinals Wednesday at Alumni Field. Their opponent will be the lowest remaining seed after Tuesday’s wild card round.
“I think everyone is pretty locked in,” said Noah Martinez. “Everyone’s figured out their stroke at the plate and on the mound, so I feel like everyone knows the job moving forward.”
The Northern Division semifinals will be a best-of-three series. The SwampBats earned home field advantage throughout the duration of the playoffs, meaning Keene will host Games 1 and 3 of every playoff series.
“Overall, definitely happy heading into Wednesday,” McKenna said, adding that the team will have workouts tomorrow to get ready for the playoff series.