Players, execs say NECBL’s where it’s at

Sharks shone in new division, look forward to next year.

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The Sharks celebrate a win over the Newport Gulls in game one of the Southern Division finals. — Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Sharks finished in second place in their debut season in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) last week, after being swept in the championship finals (2-0) by the Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats in a home-and-home series.

The Bats won a slugfest 14-10 last Wednesday at the Shark Tank in Oak Bluffs, then trimmed the Sharks 4-2 in Keene for their fifth championship in 22 years in the NECBL.

Losing isn’t that much fun, but the first-year Sharks can bump their fins after being a divisional winner and championship finalist in the second best summer baseball league in America. 

“It’s true, Baseball America rates the NECBL second overall to the Cape Cod League,” Bats president Sam Watterson said during last Wednesday’s bat barrage.

The Sharks spent eight seasons as founding members in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL), during which time they won one championship and were co-champions in 2018.

“I’m a big fan of having an NECBL team on the Vineyard, always have been. Travel can be challenging, but they are good for our league,” he said.

Watterson, Sharks general manager Russ Curran, and just about everybody you talked to describes the NECBL as a pitcher’s league. That wasn’t always the case this year, but it sure was true in crunchtime. The Sharks outlasted the Newport Gulls two games to one to get to the finals. All were one-run games in which no more than five total runs were scored in any game. 

The 14-10 Shark Tank bombfest was the outlier. In the finale, all the scoring was done by the second. After that, both team’s relievers combined for 13½ scoreless innings.

Before the finals began, we checked in with two veteran Shark players who experienced both the FCBL and the NECBL. Nick Raposo, a hard-nosed catcher and now a senior at Wheaton College, was clear: “Oh yeah, much better pitching than we face in college. Higher velo [speed], much better overall.” Lots of guys throwing in the 90s [mph], he said. Team captain Raposo was named to the All-Region D3 first team while leading Wheaton to the NCAA D3 regional finals this spring.

Outfielder Collin Shapiro, entering his junior year at UMass Amherst in the Division 1 A-10 Conference, agreed. Shapiro was an A-10 All-Rookie Team selection in 2018, and was selected to the regional New England Collegiate Interscholastic Baseball Association (NECIBA) All-Star team this season as a sophomore.

“The pitching here [NECBL], well, the play overall, is better than we face in school, and better than last year [FCBL]. It’s been a rewarding challenge,” he said.