Photo Gallery | North Adams tops Ocean State
NORTH ADAMS — The North Adams SteepleCats have picked a pretty good time to play their best baseball of the season.
"Everybody's positive in the dugout and you know, we're all cranking it up," said shortstop Easton Johnson. "It feels great."
Johnson had three of North Adams' 14 hits Monday night as the SteepleCats got rolling after a 30-minute rain delay and beat the Ocean State Waves 9-4 at Joe Wolfe Field.
The SteepleCats wrapped up a perfect 3-0 homestand by scoring six runs in the first two innings and holding the Waves off the rest of the way.
Johnson, Dustin Shirley and Kyle Brennan all had three hits each for the SteepleCats. For Shirley, it was a continuation of his torrid play as of late. He reached base eight consecutive times over the last two games before grounding into an eighth-inning double play.
"No question," said SteepleCats manager Mike Armstrong when asked about getting hot at the right time. "It's a fun time of the year, an exciting time of the year and this is when you want it all to come together. No doubt about it.
"We're really happy about that."
The SteepleCats have won six of their last eight games, which for them is a good thing because they head on the road for three of their last four games. North Adams plays tonight in Vermont, Friday in Sanford, Maine, and Saturday back in Vermont before playing Winnipesaukee in the home finale Sunday afternoon.
The SteepleCats, meanwhile, have seemingly cemented a spot in the NECBL playoffs. North Adams is now 2 1/2 games behind Northern Division leader Sanford. Valley is a half-game ahead of the SteepleCats, while Vermont is five games behind the division leader. Keene is 6 1/2 behind Vermont, and would need to go on a run to make the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin on Aug. 3.
North Adams pulled Jack Rupe out of the bullpen to make a start Monday night. Rupe came into the game having pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings of relief in his last five appearances. He began the year as a starter at California-San Diego, but had only started one game since April 3.
"I knew at Keene, the game we got rained out. [Armstrong] just came up to me and asked me how I felt," said Rupe. "I said 'Good.' He said 'you've got the start on Monday.'"
Rupe had to pitch out of a first-inning jam with a runner in scoring position, but he retired the side without damage. The same could not be said of Ocean State starter Nick DiEva.
The SteepleCats, who scored 13 runs in Sunday's doubleheader sweep of Keene, erupted for four runs on five hits and an error in the first inning. Shirley, the second batter in the North Adams lineup, doubled home Daniel Holst and scored on a double by Edward Haus. The final run of the inning came home on Brennan's base hit.
"You come out, you put up some runs early and you swing the bats pretty well, and you put some pressure on them," said Johnson, who hit a two-run double in the second inning and had a sacrifice fly in the fourth. "It helps the pitcher, it relaxes us and it felt pretty good to jump ahead early."
"We had [34 hits in the last three games]," he said. "It's good. It's nice to be in this kind of groove."
That offensive explosion helped Rupe, who made it through four innings before he was relieved by winning pitcher Robby Buffis.
"I was pretty excited" to start, said Rupe. "I had gotten kind of used to the reliever role. I was just excited to start the game again.
"I was actually kind of having trouble with all my stuff, but I just kind of worked with what I had. In the first inning, I had a good changeup and after that, it was mostly fastballs."
Buffis, the first of four North Adams relievers, earned the win to go 3-2. He pitched two innings, giving up a run on two hits and he struck out 2.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.