Navs Dethrone Defending Champ SwampBats, Advance to North Finals

08/07/2021 9:22 PM

By Joshua Kummins

KEENE, N.H. -- Thanks to their second-largest offensive output of the entire New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) season, the North Shore Navigators have survived and advanced in the Fay Vincent Sr. Cup Playoffs for the second time this week.

Crooked numbers in three different innings provided all the offense that the fifth-seeded Navigators needed as they cruised to a 14-3 win over the top-seeded and defending NECBL champion Keene SwampBats in Saturday night’s deciding third game of the Northern Division Semifinals at Alumni Field.

The Navs banged out 13 hits and scored double-digit runs in a postseason game for the first time in franchise history. Second baseman Jonathan Luders (Seton Hall) went 4-for-6 with three runs scored, setting the franchise’s single-game postseason record for hits. 

Left fielder Hunter Baldwin (Harvard) went 2-for-5 with his first two home runs of the summer -- including a grand slam during the five-run first inning -- and another playoff-best six RBI. North Shore’s homer total doubled as third baseman Jake McElroy (Holy Cross) and first baseman Logan Bravo (Harvard) also left the yard.

North Shore got the scoring going in the blink of an eye as five runs crossed the plate in the opening frame and chased Keene starter Jake Berry (Virginia) after just two outs. The five-run first surpassed the team’s output from Friday night’s 8-3 loss at Fraser Field.

After McElroy drew a leadoff walk on four pitches and Luders beat out a bunt single up the first-base line, center fielder Joe Lomuscio (Stanford) lined a run-scoring single into left. Catcher Cal Christofori’s (Santa Clara) two-out walk kept the inning alive and loaded the bases, which were cleared when Baldwin connected for a grand slam over the leaping right fielder Michael Nyisztor (Rutgers) at the wall.

McElroy continued the offensive roll in the second, depositing a leadoff solo homer over the scoreboard in right-center field. Luders continued the line with his second infield single in as many innings and scored on Bravo’s two-run homer -- his first of the postseason -- out to left.

Keene reliever Michael Bacica (Maine) retired the next three batters to end the second inning before he combined with Calvin Bickerstaff (Kent State) to work around shortstop Alex Lemery’s (Marymount) one-out double an inning later. Bickerstaff held the Navs off the board and allowed just one hit over 3.1 innings.

Navs southpaw Zach Chappell (North Florida) worked around single baserunners in each of the first three frames and stranded two in the fourth. Three of his six strikeouts came to escape the third-inning jam.

The SwampBats broke the shutout bid in the fifth after first baseman Drake Westcott (Louisville) walked with the bases loaded and designated hitter Matt Almonte (Pace) sent a two-run single down the line in left. Chappell induced a fly ball to Lomuscio to end the inning and keep the home team out of “grand slam range.”

Designated hitter-turned-pitcher Matthias Haas (Cal Poly) struck out two across two scoreless, one-hit innings in relief of Chappell. He induced a 4-6-3 double play in the sixth inning and fanned a pair in a perfect seventh.

North Shore blew the game wide open with a six-run eighth inning in which 10 men came to the plate including five reaching base with one out. Following McElroy’s one-out walk and a Luders single, Bravo split the left and center fielders for a run-scoring double and crossed the plate himself on Lomuscio’s line-drive, two-run double to left.

Haas helped his own cause on the mound by dropping a single into shallow left to make the score 12-3, giving North Shore its largest lead of the night. Baldwin capped the scoring with a two-out, two-run homer out to right-center before James Sashin (San Diego) closed out the series-clinching victory with two scoreless innings. 

The Navs will continue their trophy quest when the Northern Division Championship Series against the second-seeded Upper Valley Nighthawks begins at the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt. The series schedule has yet to be finalized.