HOLYOKE — North Adams SteepleCats manager Mike Armstrong was not very happy after the first game of Wednesday's NECBL doubleheader against the Valley Blue Sox.
"It's embarrassing," Armstrong said. "We very rarely get beat, but we very often beat ourselves, which I still have yet to figure out.
"It comes down to the guys. They have to do some soul searching and be able to make routine plays if they want to be here in August."
The SteepleCats, who came into the doubleheader two games behind Northern Division leader Sanford and a half-game behind second-place Valley, took a two-run lead into the bottom of the fifth. But North Adams surrendered two unearned runs on three errors to tie the game and Connor Donovan's pinch-hit single in the sixth plated the go-ahead run as Valley beat the SteepleCats 3-2.
"Offensively, I definitely thought we outplayed them and on the mound. We had runners on base and in scoring position all game," SteepleCats centerfielder Daniel Holst said. "We just couldn't, in those later innings, find a way to punch them in."
If there was a "player of the game" for North Adams, it would have been starting pitcher Robby Buffis. The right-hander from Lanesborough took a no-hitter into the fifth of this seven-inning game. Buffis gave up two unearned runs and the only hit he surrendered was off the bat of Kipp Moore.
"I was pitching to contact, because I had faith in my team," said the former Mount Greylock standout. "I was hitting my spots, which you always love to do. My curveball was a little sharper today."
Buffis faced the minimum through the first three innings and was helped out by a pair of double plays. In his 4 1/3 innings of work, he gave up the one hit and two unearned runs, while walking two and striking out one. Only four of the 18 hitters he faced got the ball out of the infield.
"Robby pitched great. He was a throw to second away from pitching a very good baseball game," said Armstrong. "He attacked the hitters. He had some very good [velocity] today and lived down in the zone.
"He didn't get much help sadly, including himself, in the field."
That was in the fifth inning when North Adams committed three of its four errors.
The SteepleCats, who scored a pair of runs in the first inning, took a 2-0 lead into the fifth. Cam O'Neill grounded to third to lead off, but the throw by C.J. Price sailed out of play and O'Neill ended up on second. One out later, Buffis lost his no-hitter when Moore singled between first and second.
Brennan Washington hit a slow roller back to Buffis, but the pitcher one-hopped a throw to second. Everyone was safe and O'Neill came home from third to put the Blue Sox on the board. The next hitter was Brodie Leftridge, whose ground ball went under Price's glove for another error and the game was tied.
The home team broke the tie in the sixth. North Adams reliever Andrew Camiolo retired the first two hitters before Hezekiah Randolph doubled to the base of the wall in right. O'Neill walked and Armstrong called for Jack Rupe. Rupe, the right hander from UC-San Diego, threw one pitch and the game was untied. Pinch-hitter Connor Donovan blooped the ball into left, plating Randolph.
The SteepleCats, who left seven runners on base in the first six innings, threatened in the seventh. Holst went the other way and doubled to the Valley bullpen in left. After Dustin Shirley flied to center, Holst stole third with John Mazza in the box. Mazza struck out and Ed Haus grounded to second to end the game.
Holst, Haus and Riotto all had two hits each. Noah Vaughan had the lone RBI on a first-inning single that made it 2-0. Holst had scored earlier on a passed ball.
"We're so close to each other" in the standings, said Holst. "A two-game swing like this, for a team to go 2-0 in a doubleheader can be huge.
"For us to go out and salvage a split will give us a chance to build off the next game coming up."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.