The North Shore Navigators hopped on the Keene SwampBats early and never looked back in a 14-3 win in Game 3 of the NECBL Northern Division semifinals Saturday night at Alumni Field.
Three free bases and three hits in the first inning — including a grand slam — put North Shore up 5-0 in the first. By the end of the second, the Navigators were up 8-0.
The surging Navigators continued their winning ways Sunday night in the first game of the Northern Division Championship Series, blanking the Upper Valley Nighthawks 5-0 in White River Junction, Vt.
“They hit the ball tonight,” said Keene manager Shaun McKenna after Saturday’s loss. “We didn’t pitch great overall. It’s unfortunate, but it’s baseball. Now we have to reflect on the season and all the positive things we did.”
Jake Berry had trouble on the mound for Keene and couldn’t get out of the first inning. He walked his first batter on four pitches, then gave up an RBI single and a grand slam later in the inning, giving the Navigators a 5-0 lead before Keene even had a chance to hit.
All in all, Berry allowed the five runs on three hits and walked two batters.
Michael Bacica came in with two outs in the first, walked his first batter, but got out of the inning without allowing any more runs.
Bacicia gave up two homeruns in the second inning — a solo homer to lead off, then a two-run shot later in the inning — and in the blink of an eye, the Navigators were up 8-0.
Calvin Bickerstaff took over for Bacica with two outs in the third inning and pitched 3.1 scoreless innings before the Navigators put the nail in the coffin with a six-run eighth inning.
Maybe it was the early deficit, maybe it was Zach Chappell’s tough curveball on the mound for the Navigators, or maybe a combination of both, but the SwampBats’ offense was largely quiet for the whole night. Mike Nyisztor had three hits — a double and two singles — and nobody else in the Keene lineup had a hit until the fifth inning.
Keene scored three runs in that fifth inning to make it an 8-3 game and bring the Alumni Field crowd back into it, but the Navigators’ pitching staff settled in again and cruised the rest of the way.
Nyisztor started the fifth-inning rally with a one-out single. A hit-by-pitch and a walk loaded the bases with two outs, then Drake Westcott drew a walk to bring in Keene’s first run of the night.
Matt Almonte stepped in the box and delivered a two-RBI single cut the deficit to 8-3.
Bickerstaff pitched 3.1 innings of one-hit ball and struck out four in his scoreless outing before Gage Bradley took over in the seventh.
Bradley walked his first batter, then hit the next two to load the bases before recording an out. Bryce Hellgeth came into the difficult situation but got out of the jam with a strikeout and a double play.
It was downhill from there for Keene as a six-run eighth inning put an exclamation point on an impressive night for the Navigators.
“Heartbreak is tough,” McKenna said. “It’s hard to win in this league all the way through. We did a great job this year, it just didn’t happen tonight.”
Hunter Baldwin had two homeruns for North Shore; he hit the grand slam in the first inning to set the tone, then tied a bow on the win with a two-run homer in the eighth.