The Keene SwampBats have 12 games left in the regular season. That’s a lot of baseball to play before the postseason starts on Aug. 3.
But we’re starting to get to the point in the season where each game starts to feel a tad heavier and more important.
After Tuesday’s slate of games around the New England Collegiate Baseball League, the SwampBats are holding onto a one-game lead in the Northern Division — just ahead of the Upper Valley Nighthawks. The SwampBats and Nighthawks are scheduled to play Friday at the Maxfield Sports Complex.
The No. 1 seed in the division means more this year than it has in the past. With every team making the postseason, the two No. 1 seeds — one from each division — receive a first-round bye and will forego the one-game play-in round that every other team will have to get through.
Keene has held the lead in the division since June 24’s 6-5 win over the Nighthawks at Alumni Field. That game was the sixth consecutive win of the SwampBats at the time, and they’d go on to win four more in a row, tying the franchise record for the longest win streak.
Then, Keene hit a short lull, but it was enough for the Nighthawks to inch their way back in the division and they have been breathing down the SwampBats’ necks ever since.
The Nighthawks won Monday, a 9-2 victory over the Vermont Mountaineers, which made Keene’s game against the North Shore Navigators even more important in order to hang on to the division lead.
Keene beat North Shore, 7-4, keeping the half-game lead in tact.
Then, Upper Valley lost to the Sanford Mainers Tuesday, 10-1, while the SwampBats’ game against the Mountaineers was suspended, which extended Keene’s division lead to a full game.
Keene manager Shaun McKenna said after Monday’s game that he’s looking forward to playing the Nighthawks at the end of the week.
“[Upper Valley] is a good team,” McKenna said after Monday’s game. “Everybody got a break Sunday with the All-Star game so they’re fresh and hot too. We see them this weekend and it’ll be a good matchup, just like it has been.”
As for any discussions with the team about the vitally important No. 1 seed?
“Obviously we want to be the No. 1 seed, for sure. I mean, why wouldn’t you?” said manager Shaun McKenna. “You play to win. You play to be the No. 1 guy. We’ve been No. 1 for the majority of the season after the first 10 games. You want to stay at the top, by all means. I want to be No. 1, always.”
“Some of the guys are talking about it, but we’ve still got 12 games left to play,” said Tommy Joseph, who had a two-run homerun in Monday’s win. “We’re still focused on taking each game one at a time.”
And some SwampBats are already thinking longer term. Sure, they want the No. 1 seed, but it’s really what you do with it that matters in the end.
“We have one thing on our mind, and that’s a ring,” said Troy Schreffler, who also homered in Monday’s win. “It’s a common thing among all of us, we want the ring. So that’s what we’re chasing, that’s all we care about.”
First things first, the SwampBats have to get through a grueling end of the month which has them playing 12 games over the next 11 days.
Right now, the SwampBats’ magic number to clinch the division is still at 11, which means there’s still a lot of work to be done before thinking about that first-round bye, and beyond.