NORTH ADAMS — It doesn't get much better for a catcher than to end a game with a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play. When that double play completes a doubleheader sweep, so much the better.
"That was pretty cool," North Adams catcher John Mazza said. "Just to hear the crowd go crazy after that. It's awesome."
Mazza threw out pinch runner Jamal Wade after Parker Sniatynski swung at strike three from SteepleCats closer Tanner Bird to wrap up a 3-2 win over the Keene Swamp Bats in the nightcap of a twi-night doubleheader at Joe Wolfe Field.
The SteepleCats erupted for 14 hits in the opener, outscoring the Swamp Bats 10-3. The teams were forced to play two because of Saturday's rainout in New Hampshire. Because of that, the SteepleCats were the visiting team in the opening game.
With the sweep, the SteepleCats moved to within three games of Northern Division leader Sanford. Second-place Valley lost to Danbury on Sunday, so North Adams moves to within a game of the Blue Sox.
"It's always hard to win two games in one day, especially when you've been going at it for six weeks and it's hot," SteepleCats manager Mike Armstrong said. "I'm really proud of the effort the guys put out.
"Honestly, they've been putting that effort out in the last week in general. Win or lose, we've been playing pretty good baseball."
The nightcap of the doubleheader was a very good game.
The SteepleCats scored three times in the first inning, and had two other chances to break the game open. Keene starter Rob Carrillo would have nothing of it. After giving up three runs on four hits in the first inning, the right-hander pitched five scoreless innings on four more hits. That gave the Swamp Bats a chance to get back into the game.
Keene scored two runs on three hits off of North Adams starter Braxton Wilks in the fifth inning, losing his no-hit bid in the process. But Brian Stepniak threw a scoreless sixth, and that set the stage for Bird to go after his 10th save.
Things started well when Jake Morock flied to right, but Patrick Sullivan hit a 3-1 pitch the other way to left. Keene manager Jim Negrych sent Wade in to run for Sullivan and had Sniatynski (.278) up to pinch-hit for the light-hitting Tommy LaCongo (.135).
Sniatynski worked the count full, hit a foul fly ball to left, and then struck out. Mazza's throw was on target and the ball was waiting for Wade to end the game.
"He hit a 3-2 fast ball foul, and I had the confidence to come back with it," said Bird. "I think he was looking for the off-speed pitch. I felt confident in throwing that pitch.
"Mazza caught and made a great throw to second to end the game."
Bird has not given up a run in his last nine outings, spanning 9 2/3 innings. The only run he gave up since June 19 was in the All-Star Game.
It was another quality outing for Wilks (6-1), who holds the NECBL lead in wins.
"Wilks had his good stuff tonight," said Armstrong. "He was pounding the zone low. Braxton, even when he gives up runs, he goes out and he competes as hard as he can. You're never going to get the better of him, unless you outwork him for it."
How did the SteepleCats get on the board in Game 2? Daniel Holst led off with a triple into the right field corner and scored on Dustin Shirley's single. Shirley had quite the doubleheader. He was 3 for 5 in the twinbill with five runs batted in. He reached base all four times in the nightcap, on his RBI single, two walks and a hit batter.
After Shirley singled, Easton Johnson beat out a sacrifice bunt attempt to reach first. Shirley scored when he stole third and came home on a bad throw by Keene catcher LaCongo. Two batters later, Mazza singled home Johnson for the 3-0 lead.
The SteepleCats went quietly in the first inning of Game 1. In the second, they erupted for five runs on four hits. The inning started when Noah Vaughan reached on an infield single, and the scoring stopped when Johnson ripped a two-run double to left-center. Shirley, who registered his NECBL-best four RBI in the first game, preceded Johnson with a two-run single.
"My second at-bat, I got good wood" on the ball, said Shirley. "In my third at-bat, I hit a little flare over there [right field]. But I'll take anything I can get."
That "flare" single scored Kyle Brennan and Nike Riotto in the fourth inning, making it 7-1 at the time.
Keene answered in the bottom of the fourth when Patrick Sullivan hit an RBI double and later scored on Evan McFarland's single.
If the Swamp Bats were harboring hopes of a comeback, they were dashed in the fifth when the SteepleCats scored three more runs. C.J. Price hit a two-out solo home run and two batters later, Riotto hit his first homer of the season. It was a two-run shot to right field by the playground area at the Noel Field Complex.
Peter Lannoo (4-2) gave up three runs on six hits in five innings to get the win in the opener.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.