What a difference 24 hours can make.
In a one-day span, the Keene Swamp Bats and Valley Blue Sox went from a wild, 21-run shootout to a will-anybody-score contest that ended 1-0.
After Valley’s win Monday at McKenzie Stadium in Holyoke, Mass., the NECBL teams are deadlocked in their best-of-three playoff series to decide the Northern Division title.
Which begs the question: What’s in store for tonight’s rubber match?
That contest will be back at Alumni Field in Keene for a 6:30 start.
The Southern Division series will also go the distance, after six-time league champion Newport defeated Martha’s Vineyard, 3-2, Monday.
The Blue Sox, who swept a double-header on the final day of the regular season to get into the playoffs, scored the only run of Monday’s game on a bases-loaded walk in the sixth inning. They were outhit by the Bats, 5-2.
A day before, in Keene, the Bats rallied for a wild 11-10 win in a contest that featured 26 hits.
Monday, starting pitchers Luke Albright and Luke Sweany were masterful. Each went 5.2 innings. The Bats’ Albright, working on a strict 75-pitch limit, struck out seven. His efficiency was off the charts: he navigated the first two innings on just 14 pitches. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth.
He surely deserved a better fate, but the Bats couldn’t deliver the timely hit on this night, stranding 10 baserunners.
Albright, of Kent State, battled Richard Constantine in a nine-pitch duel with the bases loaded before walking Constantine to plate the lone run. It was the right-hander’s final offering.
The battle of the Lukes commenced for the second time this year and this time Luke Sweany came out victorious. The bullpen pitcher had started against Keene and Albright three weeks before and lost a tough 4-3 decision.
Sweany, a southpaw from the University of Pacific, fanned nine and scattered three hits. Rob Griswald replaced Sweany in the sixth and closed the door on the Bats.
Perhaps Keene’s best scoring chance Monday came early on, in the third frame; after Andrew MacNeil doubled to right, Keene had runners on second and third and no outs.
Even with top of the order coming up, Keene could not do anything as Kevin Welsh struck out, Randall Bednar popped to second and David Bedgood lined out to center.
The Bats had a first-and-third, two-outs possibility in the top of the sixth, but a fly-ball out ended the threat.
The fly ball, off the bat of power-hitting Logan Mathieu was just an out at spacious McKenzie Field. At Alumni, it was likely a three-run blast.
Keene would muster one more rally. Following back-to-back singles by Bedgood and Will Wagner, runners were in scoring position.
Kyle Ball, who was 1-for-3 on the night, then grounded into an unassisted fielder’s choice at third, Carter Williams tagging the base with his glove in a bang-bang play.
The teams’ respective bullpens were the highlights of the night with Valley using Griswold and Keene using Joseph Simeone and Cristian Sanchez.
Combined, the three relievers threw 5.2 innings of no-run ball.
The tidy affair was played in 2 hours, 13 minutes in front of a crowd of 2,961.
While not official, Keene is apt to send David Johnson to the mound tonight, as the team’s vie for a spot in the NECBL championship round.
Newport, in its win, scored all its runs in the first two innings. Greg Cavaliere had two of the team’s seven hits, and Justin Cherry and Jordan Marks combined on the hill for a four-hitter.