The Newport Gulls stayed alive in the playoff hunt against the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks last night with a knot-in-your-stomach 3-2 win at Cardines Field in Newport to tie the New England College Baseball League (NECBL) Southern Division finals at one game apiece.
The Sharks took the series opener 2-1 on Sunday night in Oak Bluffs. The teams resume play tonight at the Shark Tank to resolve the tie, and send the winner to the NECBL championship round.
More than 2,500 people filled the wooden stands surrounding one of America’s oldest baseball fields to watch first the Gulls, then the Sharks, do their scoring quickly in a game that featured outstanding defense, particularly by the Gulls in the later innings, to shut down scoring when the Sharks were stinging the ball.
The Gulls struck first with a first-inning run on a walk and a series of seeing-eye and infield bleeders that seemed to confuse Sharks defenders. Right fielder Alan Burnsed was not confused, however when he came up throwing after fielding a roller and tossed a strike to catcher Nick Raposo, who flicked a tag on a passing Gull runner at home plate — 1-0 Gulls after one.
The Gulls scored twice more in the second on an infield error, two more infield hits, a walk, a wild pitch, and a sac fly, for a 3-0 lead in what looked to be an uh-oh evening for Sharks fans. But in the third the Sharks struck for three consecutive doubles from Collin Shapiro, Matt Chamberlain, and the aforementioned Raposo, plating two.
The Sharks missed a third run when Raposo attempted to score on a wild pitch and was nipped (or not) on a nice play as catcher Colton Bender fed pitcher Justin Cherry, who covered home.
Then there was shutdown defense from both teams. That kind of game. Good clutch pitching and get-your-uniform-dirty defense. A great showcase for the NECBL in a wonderful throwback venue where Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige reportedly played.
Sharks starter Dan Hegarty had a good line: six innings, eight hits, three runs (two earned), three walks, and seven Ks. Marc Mendel finished up, allowing no hits in two innings.
Gulls starter Justin Cherry went five innings, allowing four hits, two earned runs, three walks, and five Ks. Jordan Marks pitched the final four, allowing two hits and two walks, but was aided by a snappy double play and a breathtaking throw from centerfielder Greg Cavaliere to nip Nander De Sedas at second base in the ninth on what looked like a no-doubter double off the fence.
So it’s down to tonight. Two terrific teams. Win or go home.