Groller's Complete Game Leads Navs in Doubleheader Split at Sanford

07/25/2021 8:55 PM

By Joshua Kummins

SANFORD, Maine -- Beginning the final week of the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s regular season with their first head-to-head meetings since June 20, the North Shore Navigators split Sunday’s doubleheader against the host Sanford Mainers at Goodall Park. 

North Shore scored eight straight runs from the third through fifth innings and received a complete-game pitching performance from left-hander Aaron Groller (Seton Hall) on the way to an 8-3 win to open the day, but the hosts scored all four of their runs in the bottom of the seventh to edge past for a 4-3 triumph in the nightcap.

The Northern Division standings tightened following the night’s results across the league as the Navs slipped into fifth place with their 17-16-2 mark, while the Mainers moved to 14-22.

The Navs end their four-game road trip with a Monday night game to Alumni Field in Keene, N.H. First pitch against the Swamp Bats is set for 6:30 p.m.

Game 1: North Shore 8, Sanford 3

The North Shore offense made its handful of hits count in the opener as center fielder David Kale (Fordham) went 2-for-4 with a run scored and three driven in, two of which came on a two-run single during a five-run fourth inning that proved to be the difference. 

Second baseman Jake Gustin (Bryant) had two more RBI, while first baseman Logan Bravo (Harvard) and right fielder Ryan Marra (Brown) scored two runs apiece. Bravo made another big contribution late in the game in the form of his 11th home run of the season, extending his franchise record mark and bouncing back after seeing his 15-game hit streak come to an end in Saturday’s loss at Upper Valley.

Groller carried the team through all seven innings with five strikeouts, scattering seven hits and the three runs en route to the first complete game by a Navigator pitcher since 2018. He faced the minimum in three different frames over the course of the 87-pitch outing, striking out two of the three batters he faced.

After Marra was stranded following a leadoff double and Groller worked around two baserunners in the second inning, Sanford right fielder Freddy Rojas Jr. (Texas-Rio Grande Valley) and second baseman Dominic Freeberger (UNC Asheville) connected for back-to-back base hits into center during the next frame to give the hosts a two-run lead.

The edge was short-lived, however, as North Shore batted around and scored five runs on two hits in the fourth. Three straight Navs reached base against Sanford’s Joe Joe Rodriguez (St. John’s) before Josh Joy (Southern Maine) relieved him and allowed Kale to knock a game-tying single through the right side.

Third baseman Matthias Haas (Cal Poly) moved Kale with a sacrifice bunt before shortstop Jonathan Luders (Seton Hall) walked to load the bases. Right fielder Dylan Brazil (Stetson) walked to force home a run, and Gustin capped the inning’s scoring with a two-run single over the shortstop’s head to extend the Navs’ cushion to 6-2.

Bravo and designated hitter Max Zajec (Dartmouth) walked and Marra was hit by a pitch to load the bases at the beginning of the frame, setting up Kale’s first of two run-scoring knocks in as many innings. In the fifth, Marra drew another leadoff free pass and scored on a single over short by Kale, who would follow by stealing second and third.

North Shore’s span of eight unanswered runs was finalized with two in the sixth inning, punctuated by Bravo’s two-out blast to deep left. The Lynnfield native Luders worked a leadoff walk and scored the first run of the frame on a wild pitch after Brazil’s sac bunt and Gustin’s grounder brought him over to third.

Sanford left fielder Derek Smith (Bryant) hit a leadoff triple and scored on center fielder Cal Hewett's (Vanderbilt) sacrifice fly in the seventh, but Groller induced another fly ball to finish the job.

Game 2: Sanford 4, North Shore 3

Unlike the opener, North Shore drew first blood with two runs in the second inning and padded its lead with a seventh-inning run. The Navs were two outs away from their fifth shutout of the season, but back-to-back walks with the bases loaded capped a string of four consecutive baserunners and allowed the home team to earn the comeback victory.

In the second, Marra took first base on a four-pitch walk to jumpstart the offense and moved across the diamond on Kale’s fielder’s choice and subsequent error. The first run was manufactured on a double steal as Marra slid into home plate safely after Kale successfully swiped second.

The Navs doubled their lead a batter later as Haas scored Kale on a hustle double that dropped just inside the line in shallow right, highlighting his 2-for-3 day with a run scored. Luders was also a repeat hitter, going 2-for-3 with a seventh-inning RBI single.

Evan Christopulos (Bentley) delivered another strong start, scattering just three hits over five scoreless innings. The Andover native faced just one batter over the minimum in the first four frames before working out of a bases-loaded jam to keep a zero on Sanford’s half of the scoreboard through five.

Luders finished off his multi-hit game with a two-out single over second base in a seventh inning that began with Haas reaching on an infield single and taking second on an error.

After James Sashin (San Diego) benefited from an inning-ending double play ball in the sixth, the Mainers sent eight men to the plate against Navs closer Justin Butera (Merrimack) to win the game. Smith opened the inning with a single and broke up the shutout bid on Hewett’s fielder’s choice grounder.

Third baseman Mitchell Moralez (Utah Valley) cut the deficit to one on an infield single before catcher Dayne Leonard (Virginia Tech) and right fielder-turned-pitcher Rojas drew bases-loaded walks to end the night. Rojas held North Shore off the board in the seventh and ultimately earned the win after making his first pitching appearance of the season in the prior game.