SteepleCats fall to Schooners in 12 innings


NORTH ADAMS >> Some games fall into the "shoulda, coulda, woulda" category. Thursday night's game at Joe Wolfe Field was one such game for the North Adams SteepleCats.

It wasn't that the SteepleCats dropped a 4-2, 12-inning decision to the Mystic Schooners. It was how the SteepleCats lost this 3-hour, 51-minute game. A two-run, two-out triple by Rich Slenker plated both runs in the 12th inning.

The SteepleCats got two runners on in the 12th with no outs, but reliever Jason Foley struck out the side.

The SteepleCats stranded 16 runners in 12 innings, left runners on in scoring position nine times and had chances to win the game in each of the final four innings.

"It's definitely frustrating. We had a lot of chances to win," said SteepleCats left fielder Nick Riotto, who drove in North Adams' first run and was stranded at second in the bottom of the ninth.

"We really didn't give the game away," he said. "They kind of took it away from us."

That didn't make SteepleCats manager Mike Armstrong a very happy guy, either. The SteepleCats, after winning three straight at home over the weekend, had two days off which sandwiched a loss at New Bedford.

"The last three days were terrible, in my opinion. We had an off day, played one road game and had an off day," he said. "We had no rhythm. It broke up our rhythm from a really good six game [4 wins] stretch."

North Adams also played without two key components of the offense. Shortstop Ben Bengston has a wrist injury. His right wrist is encased in a cast and he'll be out three weeks. First baseman Keaton Wright, who leads the team in batting average, home runs and runs batted in, has a sore elbow and will be out several days.

Despite the missing players, the SteepleCats could have sent the crowd at Joe Wolfe Field happy in regulation.

Noah Vaughan walked to lead off the ninth inning and after Kyle Brennan sacrificed him to second, Riotto worked a walk. That caused Mystic to pull Ryan Connolly and bring in Mason Kukowski, who got Dustin Shirley on a fly ball for the second out. Daniel Holst worked a walk but Edward Haus lined to Toby Handley in center to end the inning. The Mystic outfield saved this game two innings later.

In the 11th, Brennan led off with a walk and was sacrificed to second by Riotto. Shirley hit a sinking fly ball to right that Ryan Ramiz dove for and came up with the catch. Had it dropped in, the game would have been over. Kukowski threw two balls to Holst, and then walked him intentionally. Haus hit a sinking liner to center that Handley caught after a long run, and the SteepleCats left another zero on the board.

North Adams got its two runs in the fifth on Riotto's RBI triple and Shirley's RBI base hit. After that, the SteepleCats got nothing.

In the top of the 12th, Mystic's C.J. Moore reached on an error by Shirley, but was thrown out stealing. Handley popped to Easton Johnson at short and Kyle Mora — the fourth of five North Adams pitchers — was one out from getting to the dugout. But he walked Nick Mascelli and Brett Bond on 3-2 pitches, and then Slenker blooped an 0-2 pitch toward the right field line. By the time it finished rolling, two runs were in.

North Adams came right back in the home 12th when C.J. Price led off with a double and Johnson reached on an infield single. Jean-Francois Garon, Noah Vaughan and Brennan all struck out swinging to end the game.

By the time the game ended, SteepleCats starter Ben Olsen's outing was a mere footnote. The left-hander from Bradley was outstanding. He gave up one run on four hits in seven innings and the run scored on a wild pitch.

"Ben's been consistently our best pitcher so far," said Armstrong. "We've had other guys do excellently, but every time out, Ben's been very good. He's effective. He goes deep into games.

"He's had some pretty bad luck the last two games. He hasn't had a win, but he pitched his butt off."

The SteepleCats don't have much time to think about this one, as they travel to Holyoke for a Friday night game against the Valley Blue Sox, a team that Olson held to one run in 5 1/3 innings of a 2-1 loss a week ago.

"We'll just get back in our routine," said Riotto. "It's nice to get back in our routine, take the positive things forward and carry them.

"We have a big stretch of games. It's definitely easier to forget about it. It's a new day."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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