Division champions. How’s that sound, Keene?
Try this one out for size: back-to-back division champs.
With the Keene SwampBats’ 8-4 win over the Upper Valley Nighthawks Saturday night at Alumni Field, combined with two losses from the North Adams Steeplecats, Keene clinched the No. 1 seed in the NECBL Northern Division for the second season in a row.
So what does that mean for the team?
This year, the two division champions get to skip the wild card round in the playoffs and move directly to the divisional semifinals. It gives the teams an extra day of rest, plus it takes away the pressure of playing in a one-game elimination contest where anything can happen.
When Noah Martinez made the final out at first base on Saturday night, the team ran out of the dugout to celebrate the win, and in this case, also the regular season division title.
All 4,893 SwampBat fans at Alumni Field were celebrating, too.
“It feels great,” said Keene manager Shaun McKenna after the game. “We were in first place for a long time, and to hang on in this league, to do it like that, you have to be excited for these kids and the whole community.”
Michael Bacica pitched 4.1 innings out the bullpen Saturday night, earning the win after giving up just one run on two hits in his outing.
He was originally slated to pitch Monday’s game — if the SwampBats end up playing Monday — but told his manager he was ready to go Saturday.
And it sure paid off.
“It’s exciting,” Bacica said Saturday. “It’s super great. This team deserved it. Great team all-around. The chemistry is still there. It’s been a great experience. I’m happy to get the division title for us, now it’s time to get the actual championship.
“I’m just happy to be part of this team and I can’t wait to make a run in the playoffs,” Bacica added.
Zach Bushling hit his sixth homerun of the season Saturday — a two-run homer in the sixth inning to all but seal the win.
“It feels awesome,” Bushling said of the division title. “We want the ring.
“The bats are getting hot again, we’re starting to come together,” he added. “Perfect timing too, right before playoffs.”
And it felt right when the fireworks show kicked off 10 minutes after the game ended — an unofficial celebration of the team’s success all season long.
“To top off the evening with the fireworks, this is like a dream come true for me,” said Bacica, who was a member of the 2019 NECBL championship team.
Keene (25-15) will play their regular season finale against the North Shore Navigators (20-19-2) Monday at Alumni Field. The Navigators are fighting for the fourth seed in the Northern Division. First pitch will be at 6:30 p.m.
Then the SwampBats will have until Wednesday to rest and recover before their championship defense officially begins.
“I’m happy for the guys and coaching staff,” McKenna said. “They’ve all put in the work and now, let the fun begin. Let’s go.”