Unlike the first two games of the New England Collegiate Baseball League Southern Division finals, in which each team scored a decisive victory, the rubber match Tuesday night at the Shark Tank was a tense affair that turned into a nail-biter, and, finally, a heartbreaker for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks and their faithful, who stayed until the very end.
Up 5-3 after seven innings, the Sharks were done in by defensive mistakes in the eighth and ninth. The Danbury Westerners, opportunistic for sure, played the cards they were dealt and headed back to Connecticut with a 7-5 win and a trip to the league championship series against the North Shore Navigators.
Danbury scored first on Nick Lorusso’s solo homer to center in the top of the second, but A.J. Shaver singled to score Grant Norris with the tying run in the home half.
Danbury added one run in the fourth and another in the fifth before the Sharks broke loose with four runs during a two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth. Jaydn Jackson hit an RBI single, Mike Brown doubled to score two more runs, and Will Duff doubled to make it 5-3 heading into the sixth.
Will Greer pitched a solid five innings for the Sharks, allowing three runs on five hits, while striking out seven and walking one, before giving way to Riley Phillips for the next three frames.
After the teams played two scoreless innings, Danbury started off the eighth with a base hit and a bunt single. On the next play, Matt Zaffino was called safe at first after the umpire ruled that Sharks first baseman Mike Brown had his feet off the bag, loading the bases with no outs. With Henry Strmecki up, Jaydn Jackson, Jake Berger, and Mike Brown turned a slick 4-6-3 double play, but Nick Lorusso scored from third. On the next swing, Sebastian Murillo hit a sky-high pop-up to second that eluded Jaydn Jackson’s grasp and went for a single. Jake Roper scored, and the game was tied at 5-5.
With Alex Galvan on the hill for the Sharks in the ninth, Danbury’s Jack Payton drew a leadoff walk, and Cameron Masterman ripped a ground ball through Mike Brown’s legs at first. Both runners eventually scored on passed balls.
Twice down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth, the Sharks got two runners on base and brought the potential lead run to the plate, but University of Hartford righthander Coleman Picard had the last word, ending the Sharks season with a strikeout.
The Sharks had much to be proud of in 2021. They won their second Southern Division regular season title in as many attempts since joining the NECBL in 2019, when they played for the league championship. They sent five players to the league All-Star game, and the team twice broke the single-game attendance record, first with 2,799 fans against the Valley Blue Sox on July 14, and again in the regular season finale on August 1 against the Newport Gulls, when 3,129 fans visited the Shark Tank.