The sting of Thursday’s home loss to Vermont — which followed three road wins in as many days — seeped away slowly Friday and was gone the minute that the Valley Blue Sox recorded the final out in a 5-2 win over North Adams in the first game of a double-header in Holyoke, Mass.
The result was music to the Keene players’ ears.
It gave the Bats the regular-season title in the Northern Division of the NECBL.
Manager Gary Calhoun and Co. would surely like to have sewn up that position on their own terms Thursday, but there’s no complaining.
The gritty, never-quit Bats did their defining work in a three-game away stretch after the All-Star break, getting solid starting pitching and timely hitting at just the right time.
The Bats (26-18) will open a best-of-three series against the winner of Saturday’s one-game playoff.
The series will open Sunday at Alumni Field. First pitch is at 6:30 p.m.
Calhoun is expected to send Zach Messenger to the hill. The right-hander has made eight starts and is 3-2 with a 4.92 ERA and 40 strikeouts.
Keene is trying to win its first NECBL crown since 2013.
The Bats will play the winner of a game pitting Vermont against Valley, which is coming off its big Friday sweep of North Adams, 5-2 and 3-2. That contest is in Holyoke.
North Adams lost its final four games to fall from first to out of the playoff picture.
Meanwhile, first-year entry Martha’s Vineyard earned the bye in the Southern Division.
Saturday, the Newport Gulls face the Mystic Schooners in that division’s one-game playoff, at Cardines Field in Newport, R.I.
After completing the regular season with a 27-17 record, good for second place in the Southern Division, Newport is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
The Gulls, who own a record six league championships, qualified for postseason play every year between 2001 — when they moved to Newport from Cranston — and 2016. Injuries and other issues resulted in Newport missing the playoffs in 2017 and 2018 as the league changed its format, but the team has righted the ship this summer under first-year manager Kevin Winterrowd, the one-time Swamp Bats skipper.
That new playoff format calls for three teams from each the South and North divisions to earn berths instead of four.
The Bats are 6-4 in the last 10 games.
The middle of the team’s lineup is formidable, led by the 1-2 punch of David Bedgood and Randy Bednar, who have combined for 23 home runs, 115 hits and 81 RBIs. Bednar is batting .337; Bedgood .331.
Only Mystic slugger Terry Bowens has more dingers this year than Bedgood, who has gone yard 14 times.
Will Wagner keeps the Bats lineup punch going. He is hitting .329 with seven homers, 11 doubles and 47 runs scored. David Matthews has eight home runs, his most recent coming Thursday.
The team’s leading hitter is Justice Lucas, who is batting .353 in 34 at-bats.
The Schooners (22-21) and Gulls split the regular-season series, with each team winning three games. The last of those meetings came on July 14, when the Gulls scored four runs in the top of the 10th inning to post a 12-9 victory.
That victory put the Gulls at 17-13 and left Mystic with a 17-12 mark. From that point, Newport went 10-4 while the Schooners closed the season 5-9.
Bowens led the NECBL with 16 home runs in 39 games. He also drove in a league-high 53 runs while batting .331.
As a team, the Gulls ranked third in the league with 294 runs scored, while the Schooners were right behind with 286.