NORTH ADAMS — It may seem like the summer baseball season just started, but for the North Adams SteepleCats and the rest of the NECBL, the playoff push is here.
After having Thursday off, the SteepleCats begin a run of nine games in 11 days to wrap up the regular season and, the players and coaches hope, get a spot in the NECBL Northern Division playoffs.
"I definitely think so," said North Adams center fielder Daniel Holst, who was asked if the calendar is adding any pressure on the field. "We've been battling these teams all year. It just seems that we'll win a couple of games and we'll lose a couple of games. The same with the other teams.
"It's tightly packed in there. If we go out and string a couple of games together, we could put some distance between us and the other teams."
Just how tightly packed is the NECBL's Northern Division? Going into Thursday night's games, division leader Sanford has a two-game lead on Valley and a 2 1/2 game lead on North Adams. Keene is four games back, while Winnipesaukee and Vermont are both 4 1/2 games behind the leader.
The SteepleCats begin their playoff sprint tonight at Joe Wolfe Field against the Upper Valley Nighthawks. Three out of North Adams' next four games are at home, but only one of the final five will be at Joe Wolfe.
North Adams plays a home-and-home with Keene Saturday and Sunday and then host Southern Division team Ocean State on Monday. After that, the only other regular-season home game for the SteepleCats comes on July 31 against Winnipesaukee.
"It's interesting. It either speaks to how evenly matched all the teams are or how often players make mistakes, I'm not really sure," said North Adams manager Mike Armstrong.
The second-year manager said that Wednesday's doubleheader split with Valley kept the SteepleCats in the midst of the playoff hunt.
The playoffs are tentatively scheduled to start on Thursday, Aug. 2. The top four teams in each division will be seeded 1-4 based on regular-season records. In the first round of the playoffs, the top-seeded team will play the fourth seed. Winners advance to the semifinals.
All playoff series are best-of-three games. And if the playoffs started Thursday, the SteepleCats would be the No. 3 seed behind Sanford and Valley, and ahead of Keene.
"Certainly, with everybody kind of beating up on each other, it definitely keeps you in the hunt longer," said Armstrong.
Of all the North teams in the hunt, not including an Upper Valley team that is 6 1/2 games out, the Valley Blue Sox have the most favorable schedule. The Blue Sox had 11 games left as of Thursday, seven of them at home. Three of Valley's final four games will be at McKenzie Stadium.
The defending NECBL-champion Vermont Mountaineers, meanwhile, have only three home games left. The Mountaineers, tied with Winnipesaukee at 4 1/2 games back, are on the road for five of their last six games. That includes a doubleheader at Upper Valley on Aug. 1.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.