LYNN, Mass. — The Keene SwampBats’ pitching staff — led by Cole Stallings — dominated in an 8-3 win over the North Shore Navigators in Game 2 of the NECBL Northern Division Semifinals Friday night at Fraser Field in Lynn.
The SwampBats’ win keeps the season alive and ties the series at one game apiece. A winner-take-all Game 3 will be played Saturday at Alumni Field at 6:30 p.m.
"Happy that we can play another game," said Keene manager Shaun McKenna. "We'll go tomorrow and have at it again."
Stallings set his season high with nine strikeouts in five scoreless innings pitched, putting his team in a better-than-ideal position to force a Game 3. Going back to his last start — a 5-2 win over the North Adams Steeplecats on July 30 — Stallings has pitched 10 consecutive scoreless innings.
"I felt good right off the bat," Stallings said. "I didn't really let the pressure [of the elimination game] get to me."
Three 1-2-3 innings in the outing helped Stallings keep his pitch count down throughout the night. He finished at 79 pitches.
Jake Neuman came in to pitch the sixth and got through three innings, allowing the three runs — all coming on a three-run, inside-the-park homerun in the eighth — on just three hits.
Much like Wednesday’s Game 1, the night started as a pitchers’ duel, with Stallings and North Shore’s Jackson Emus — with the lowest ERA in the league coming into Friday — going pitch-for-pitch for the first two innings, before Keene broke through in the third to take a 3-0 lead.
"Really good at-bats early," McKenna said. "Emus is a really good pitcher. It was good to get those hits and get those runs and get the lead early."
But a four-run seventh inning was really the decider.
After the Navigators’ Mike Willis took over for Emus with two outs in the seventh and a runner on first, Keene drew two consecutive walks to load the bases and Mike Nyisztor came through with a two-RBI single — his second and third RBIs on the night.
Tommy Joseph kept the two-out rally going with his second RBI single of the game, then later in the inning Drake Westcott walked with the bases loaded to bring in the fourth run of the inning.
"We had a couple of free passes and then guys just compiled really good at-bats," Nyisztor said. "I got up and was just trying to be aggressive and got a good pitch to hit. Luckily, we didn't stop there."
Keene sent 10 batters to the plate in that inning.
"If we can keep doing that, we should be in pretty good shape for the rest of the playoffs," Nyisztor said.
After Neuman pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh inning, the Navigators started waving the white flag, down 7-0, bringing Joe Lomuscio in from centerfield to pitch the eighth rather than digging deeper into the bullpen.
Lomuscio hit an inside-the-park, three-run homerun in the bottom of the eighth after Nysiztor couldn’t make a tough play in rightfield, then got stuck in the bullpen and Lomuscio came all the way around to score.
"I was playing far in the gap," Nyisztor said after cracking a smile thinking about the play. "I knew I was close to the bullpen, I just missed [the ball] — ran into the fence — and I just assumed it was foul. But whatever, at least it didn't affect the game too much."
Then Lomuscio came out to pitch the ninth.
But Keene immediately responded in that ninth inning with another run. After Joseph recorded his third hit of the game, Troy Schreffler doubled him in on a ball that just missed being a homerun.
Joseph finished the day 3-for-5 with two RBIs.
"Tommy hit rockets today," McKenna said. "Troy hit that one to the fence there. Really good at-bats by our guys today. Very happy. Hopefully we can bring that over to [Saturday]."
Schreffler’s RBI double gave Keene an 8-3 lead heading into the bottom half and Joel Rodriguez punched out the Navigators, 1-2-3, to end the game.
"Pitching was great, all around," McKenna said. "Cole settled down ... then Jake came in and pitched well, then Joel came in and shut it down."
Neither team used much of their bullpen, leaving just about everyone on both sides available for Saturday’s Game 3.
Jake Berry (2-0, 2.08 ERA) is scheduled to start the winner-take-all game for Keene.
"We have all the confidence in Jake," McKenna said. "He's on plenty of rest."
Berry will be pitching against Zach Chappell (0-3, 6.84 ERA).
First pitch is 6:30 p.m. at Alumni Field.
"Happy to have another game in front of our fans," McKenna said.