The Martha’s Vineyard Sharks head for Keene, N.H., today for a must-win game after dropping a 14-10 slugfest to the Keene Swamp Bats Wednesday night at the Shark Tank in the opening game of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) championship series.
The Sharks must win tonight to bring the best-of-three series back to the Tank on Friday night.
After winning a low-scoring series with the Newport Gulls to advance to the championship round, both teams had the crowd of 400 to 500 oohing and aahing as they hit rockets off and over the outfield fences all night.
The teams combined for six home runs (two by Swamp Bats, four by Sharks) in what was an exciting effort and, ironically, featured some stellar defensive play on both sides despite the nonstop slugging that began in the second inning when the Bats scored four times on five hits and three walks off Sharks starter Oliver McCarthy.
The Sharks struck for four runs in the bottom of the fourth, an eruption featuring a two-run homer by Mike Knell.
The score remained tied until the seventh, when the fireworks really erupted. The Swamp Bats scored seven times, sending 12 men to the plate. The inning began with a strikeout of cleanup hitter Will Wagner, but went on and on with six hits, including a two-run homer by Logan Mattieu, two walks, and a hit batsman before blessedly ending with a nifty 6-4-3 double play by Sharks infielders.
A parade of relievers including Angelo Sotas, Marc Mendel, and Robert Nadel were required to stanch the bleeding. Still, the inning in which the Bats loaded and reloaded the bases included three accurate scoop and throws to the plate by center fielder Matt Chamberlain, who showed fans a major league arm.
The Sharks scored one in the seventh on Nander DeSedas’ first of two home runs of the evening. The Bats had one in the top of the eighth for a 12-5 bulge. If trailing 4-0 early on looked bleak, then 12-5 looked insurmountable, but the Sharks roared back with one run in the seventh on shortstop Nander DeSedas’ first home run, then scored five more in the eighth on four walks and back-to-back dingers by Alan Burnsed and DeSedas. Keene led only 12-10 after eight innings.
At this point, Swamp Bat team president Kevin Watterson was walking in small tight circles near the Bats dugout. Watterson who has been doing this for 22 years as a labor of love, loves his team and the NECBL. His beloved Bats lead the league in championships, but he knows what can happen on any given night at the Ol’ Ballyard.
Swamp Bat third-sacker Kyle Ball eased his pain in the ninth with a two-run ’tater hit so far it may be orbiting. Swamp Bat reliever Cristian Sanchez brought his 93-94 heater to the ninth, and the Sharks had punched their ticket to Keene.
But like Yogi said, it ain’t over til it’s over.