North Adams SteepleCats drop NECBL playoff opener to Valley


Photo Gallery | North Adams falls to Valley in NECBL Playoffs opener

HOLYOKE >> On a night where the eighth error of the game by the North Adams SteepleCats gave Valley an extra-inning win in the first game of the NECBL first-round playoff series, there could have been a lot of discouraged players in black and gold.

Instead, the vibe coming out of the visitors' dugout after the 5-4 loss to the Blue Sox was anything but discouragement. Defiance might be more like it.

"We're going to fight to the very end. We're not going to let them steal games like that," said SteepleCats right fielder Edward Haus. "It's not going to happen again."

The Blue Sox's Hezekiah Randolph scored from third base on a throwing error by SteepleCats shortstop Easton Johnson. Johnson bounced the throw after Connor Donovan hit a slow roller. A good throw would have sent the game into the 11th inning. Instead, it sends the SteepleCats home down by a game in the best-of-three series. It was Valley's first postseason win since 2011.

"All five of their runs were completely free," said SteepleCats manager Mike Armstrong. "It's hard to win like that."

Three of the Blue Sox runs were unearned.

"We've handed them a few games this season. Obviously, that one hurts a little more," said first baseman Noah Vaughan. "Tomorrow is a new day. We have to turn the page and come out swinging."

The SteepleCats had to come from behind to send the game into extra innings, tying at 4-all in the eighth with two outs. Haus scored when Vaughan singled to left and Valley left fielder Randolph misplayed the ball for an error.

After a scoreless ninth and a scoreless 10th for the SteepleCats, Randolph proceeded to make up for his eighth-inning error.

Left-handed reliever Josh Simpson came on for the home 10th and quickly got Mark Grunberg looking at strike three. Randolph dropped a beauty of a bunt down the third-base line. Simpson fielded it and threw the ball away, putting Randolph on second.

Erik Ostberg flied to Nick Riotto in left for the second out. Simpson bounced a pitch that catcher Kyle Brennan blocked, but Randolph got to third. Donovan hit a 2-2 pitch into the hole at short, but the bounced throw allowed Randolph to come home with the winning run.

When a team gives up five runs but only two earned, the pitchers did their jobs. That was most definitely the case for the SteepleCats.

Starter Ryan Tapp was touched up for four runs, two earned on six hits in six innings of work. Relievers Jack Rupe, Andrew Camiolo and Brian Stepniak all shut down the Blue Sox bats, while Simpson allowed only one ball in the outfield in his two-thirds of an inning.

"We've had really good pitching all year. That's kind of our trademark," said Armstrong. "Tapp, all the way to the end was good. Even Josh. The game was won on an infield single and a [ground ball]. It's hard to fault Josh on that."

While the Blue Sox walked off with a Game 1 win, the SteepleCats had an opportunity to blow this game open much earlier. It was the top of the fourth when North Adams scored two runs on three hits, but it could have been more.

Shirley led off with a double to left and took third when Johnson beat out a fielder's choice. Haus singled Shirley home with a run and C.J. Price loaded the bases with a base hit — and there were still no outs. But Valley starter Tyler Astle pitched out of the jam, giving up only a sacrifice fly to Kyle Brennan that made it 2-1.

Valley responded with three runs — two unearned — on two hits, two errors and a balk by Tapp.

"We know we deserved to win this game," said Vaughan, echoing the defiant tone of his teammates. "We handed it to them with eight errors.

"If anything, we're feeling confident about tonight. We pitched. We know they're going to come in tomorrow and we're going to have another good one."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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