HOLYOKE — North Adams SteepleCats manager Mike Armstrong took the blame for this one.
Armstrong said he believed a managerial decision he made cost the SteepleCats a chance at a win Thursday night against the Valley Blue Sox.
Holding a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, Valley's David Liederman belted a two-run double and that was all the Blue Sox needed. Aaron Leasher and three relievers held the SteepleCats to six hits in a 2-1 win at McKenzie Stadium.
"I made a pretty poor decision in the [sixth] there when we had our infield in with the bottom of the order and you've got to play no-doubles [defense] with men on first and second," said Armstrong. "You can't let both runs score.
"That won't happen again, and I feel bad I wasted their good effort."
The SteepleCats stranded five runners in the game. They scored their only run on Ben Bengston's RBI single in the top of the sixth. The SteepleCats didn't have many good opportunities to score, leaving only one runner in scoring position in the game.
"They were locating. They were hitting black and kind of not giving us pitches to hit," North Adams first baseman Keaton Wright said. "They had their pitches working, whether it was a fastball, curve ball or changeup. They were kind of keeping us on our toes."
North Adams reliever Bryce Barr pitched a third of an inning and took the loss. He came on for Ben Olson, who gave up one run on five hits in 5 2/3 innings, walking four and striking out none.
Leasher, meanwhile, had the SteepleCats baffled for five innings. The left-hander from Morehead State gave up that one run on five hits in six innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out six. Liam Carter, Anthony Romanelli and Sam Donko each pitched scoreless innings. Donko threw a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up his second save in his second outing.
"I told the hitters, I thought we did an excellent job. Our plan is to work in zones and look for good pitches early in the count," said Armstrong. "From a pitching standpoint, we talk about attacking the middle of the plate early in the count, unless you have great stuff that day. [Leasher] had great stuff tonight."
The SteepleCats finally got to Leasher in the sixth. Jean-Francois Garon led off with a solid single to center. Daniel Holst, who would be the defensive star of the game, was bunting Garon over, but dropped a perfect bunt and reached on a single. Dustin Shirley flied to right and Wright struck out before Bengston hit a 3-2 pitch to left, plating Garon with the North Adams run.
In the home sixth, Erik Ostberg led off with a single and after he was bunted to second, Barr came out of the North Adams bullpen. He walked Cam O'Neill, but struck out Brandon Morris for the second out. Liederman, who plays at Hofstra, hit the first pitch he saw to center, scoring Ostberg and O'Neill. Holst threw Liederman out at third, as the hitter tried to take an extra base.
Holst, the Missouri State product, came up big one inning later. Brennan Washington doubled to right to lead off the seventh. In came reliever Brian Stepniak, who watched Brodie Leftridge bunt the runner over. After Stepniak walked Hezekiah Randolph on a 3-2 pitch, Travis Jones hit a fly ball to center. Holst charged the ball, came up throwing and threw out Washington at home for the double play.
North Adams got only one ball in the outfield over the final three innings, and when pinch-hitter Nick Riotto popped out in the ninth, the SteepleCats were done.
Since winning back-to-back games June 13-14, the SteepleCats have been on a win-one, lose-one run. They are 3-4 in their last seven.
The SteepleCats will have a rare, three-game homestand. They'll play Vermont tonight and Sunday and Sanford Saturday.
"It's great to always be at the Joe. The fans are awesome. It'll be nice to be home over the weekend for all three days," said Armstrong. "Hopefully, we'll get some good crowds out to help us get on a little winning streak."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.