The Keene Swamp Bats came out of the Independence Day festivities with a pair of much-needed wins, defeating the Danbury Westerners at home on Wednesday, 6-4, then besting the Valley Blue Sox on the road Thursday, 4-3.
The Bats are now on a three-game win streak with a 12-7 record, and have moved up to second place in the Northern Division, just a half-game behind the first-place North Adams SteepleCats. Keene is set to host the Upper Valley Nighthawks tonight at 6:30.
The fun times began Wednesday evening, as the Keene team played host to a massive crowd of 5,137 for its Independence Eve game against Danbury at Alumni Field.
Fans were treated to a slew of fun activities, from a bounce castle and carnival games to a performance by Northern Lights to postgame fireworks display. But that doesn’t mean the product on the field took a back seat.
Keene fell behind early, but came back from a 3-1 deficit with two runs in the bottom of the third inning, scoring on a fielder’s choice and an RBI double by Ryan Hogan. The Westerners retook the lead in the fifth, scoring once on a sacrifice fly, but the Bats rallied for three in the seventh to take the lead for good.
Following a double by Will Wagner and a single by Hogan to open the inning, Keene scored on an infield single by David Matthews, a bases-loaded walk by Justice Lucas two batters later and a sacrifice fly by Seth Caddell.
Messinger had a shaky outing compared to his last two starts, but still pitched a solid 6.1 innings. He gave up four earned runs — his first earned runs since June 8 — on six hits and four walks with four strikeouts. Marc Davis threw 1.2 shutout innings of relief to earn the win, giving up two hits and one walk while striking out two. Justin Willis pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn the save.
On Thursday, it was the Bats that took the early lead on the road against Valley, but they held on to secure another win.
Luke Albright was Keene’s driving force on the mound, pitching 7.2 innings and giving up one earned run on four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts, bringing his league-leading total to 37. Jonathan Edwards came on with runners on the corners and two down in the eighth and got the Bats out of the jam, but he wasn’t so lucky in the ninth.
Back-to-back singles and a wild pitch put runners on second and third with one out, and a sacrifice fly brought in a run. Two more singles scored another, and the Blue Sox were one run away from a tie game.
Michael Bacica took over for Edwards, and after walking his first batter, forced the next one to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the game and earn the one-out save.
The Bats scored their first run in the first inning on an RBI double by Randall Bednar, then added two more in the fourth on an RBI single by Andrew MacNeil and a sacrifice fly by David Bedgood. Their last score came in the seventh on an RBI single by Brandon Smith.
The Swamp Bats will soon be saying goodbye to a pair of valuable starters.
Pitcher Paul Kosanovich will be leaving the team early due to an injury, and infielder/outfielder Brandon Smith will be departing to fulfill an educational requirement at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
In his second stint in Keene, Smith was off to a slow start by his standards, hitting .254/.323/.475, but still ranked third on the team in home runs (4) and fourth in RBI (13). Last year, he was the NECBL MVP, setting breaking the league record for single-season RBI (49) and the team record for single-season hits (59) while also tying for second in the league in batting average (.376) and homers (11).
Kosanovich, a rising senior at the University of Virginia, got off to a rough start, with an ERA of 8.00 over nine innings through his first two starts, but seemed to be settling into his role in the rotation, with a 1.84 ERA in 14.2 innings over his last two.