The Martha’s Vineyard Sharks and Newport Gulls met at the Shark Tank Tuesday night in the decisive third game of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) Southern Division finals, and produced another well-pitched, well-played, one-run gem that was tight all the way.
In the end, Jackson Raper’s RBI double in the fifth inning stood up, and the Sharks held off the Gulls for a 3-2 win, booking a spot in the best-of-three NECBL Championship Series against the Northern Division champion Keene Swamp Bats, starting Wednesday night in Oak Bluffs. Game two is Thursday night in Keene, N.H., and game three, if necessary, is Friday night back at the Tank. Both Vineyard home games are 7 pm starts.
After eight seasons and two championships in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, the Sharks have reached the finals in their first attempt in the NECBL, the second-ranked summer league in the country.
Tuesday night at a humid and sometimes slightly foggy Tank, righthander Izaiya Mestre from the University of New Haven gave the Sharks their third strong start in the series, pitching five and a third innings, allowing five hits and two runs, while striking out five and walking two. The Sharks relievers, Hunter Harris, Thomas Spinelli, and Nate Tellier pitched shutout ball the rest of the way.
Through the first three and a half innings, Mestre and Newport starter Jimmy Kingsbury had their way, though the Gulls loaded the bases to no avail in the second on an error, single, and walk.
In the bottom of the fourth, Nick Raposo walked to give the Sharks their first leadoff runner of the night and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Jackson Raper moved him to third on a ground out, and De Sedas ripped the ball down the first base line for a double to bring Raposo home and put the Sharks up, 1-0.
The hosts tacked on two more runs in the fifth. Mike Knell drew another Sharks leadoff walk; Collin Shapiro singled to right center; Nick Raposo singled over second to score Knell, put runners at the corners and chase Gulls starter Kingsbury; Jackson Raper greeted reliever Michael Sansone with a double to left; and Collin Shapiro crossed the plate to make it 3-0 Sharks.
Newport wasted little time cutting into the Sharks lead. A leadoff walk and a hit batter put two Gulls on base and Ryan Toohers doubled to put Newport on the board. Exit Izaiya Mestre and enter Hunter Harris, who got Joseph Bellini to hit a grounder to short. Nander De Sedas scooped up the ball and fired home for the second out of the inning. Brett Vosik followed with a single to score Toohers, but Harris got Peter Serruto to fly out to Matt Chamberlain in center field and end the Gulls threat.
Thomas Spinelli replaced Harris to start the seventh and notched four strikeouts in two innings, none bigger than fanning Colton Bender with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
In the ninth inning, closer Nate Tellier faced the top of the Gulls order and set them down 1, 2, 3, ending the series by winning a nine-pitch duel with Chris Hamilton on a pop-up to shortstop Nander De Sedas.
As for the league championship matchup, the Sharks (28-16) and Swamp Bats (26-18) earned the top seeds in their respective divisions and met twice during the regular season. The Vineyard overturned a five-run deficit to win, 8-7, at the Shark Tank on July 12, and defeated Keene, 3-1, in the Granite State on July 27 on a two-run double in the ninth inning by Anthony Videtto.