SteepleCats keep postseason hopes alive
NORTH ADAMS -- The SteepleCats are still alive in their search for a spot in the postseason.
North Adams topped the Vermont Mountaineers 13-5 on Friday night at Joe Wolfe Field, improving their record to 19-22 with only one game remaining in the regular season.
The ‘Cats finish the regular season today, and are on a four-game winning streak. They'll need to make it a five-gamer for a chance at the postseason.
North Adams, Laconia (20-22) and Keene (20-21) are all within one game of each other in the division standings. Keene is in third, Laconia fourth and North Adams fifth. The top four from each division make the playoffs.
Laconia, which wrapped up its regular season Friday, is guaranteed a spot because it would win the first tie-breaker (head-to-head record) with North Adams, if the SteepleCats win today.
Conversely, the SteepleCats own the head-to-head tie-breaker with Keene, but in order for that to come into play, two things must happen: 1. North Adams needs to win. 2. Keene needs to lose. Both games are slated for 6:30 p.m. starts, so neither team will know its fate until tonight.
But it was what the SteepleCats did Friday night that makes tonight's home finale worth everything.
Shortstop J.C. Cardenas stole the show during Friday's slugfest, launching two home runs to right field in a 3-for-4 outing.
Starting pitcher T.J. Hunt used the heavy run support to his advantage and held Vermont to just two runs and seven hits over six solid innings.
The SteepleCats' bats were alive from the first inning. After two quick outs, hot-hitting Cardenas singled, catcher Ramon Valdez doubled, and Zach Lucas walked. That set the table for Anthony Papio, who singled in two runs.
The Mountaineers retaliated in the top of the second, scoring one run on a wild pitch after a Ben Hall single.
Vermont threatened in the top of the fourth but failed to score. Ian Sagdal lead off the inning with a single between first and second. Trey Amburgey reached next on a fielder's choice. But with two outs and Sagdal now on third, Ben Hall ripped a line drive right at Cardenas to end the threat.
The SteepleCats made the Mountaineers pay in the bottom half of the inning, capitalizing on a series of errors to put up six runs. Papio lead off the inning with a walk, followed by two straight singles from John Kinne and Thomas "Josh" Delph.
Still with no outs and a run already in, the floodgates opened when third baseman Todd Juliano bunted back to the mound. Pitcher Jordan Doyle attempted for the force at third but threw wide, and two runs scored. With one out, Vermont went to the bullpen.
Vermont made another error in the inning, and the SteeplCats added some offense to pile on three more runs. The inning finally ended on a beautiful diving catch by the Mountaineers' right fielder.
The Mountaineers threatened Hunt in the sixth, hitting him hard, but only tallied one run after a double and an error. Adam Picard ended the inning with a hard line-out to left field.
In the bottom of the sixth, Cardenas smashed another towering shot over the right-field fence, putting the Cats up 10-2.
With the game seemingly out of reach, the Mountaineers pressed back in the top of the seventh. With two outs and a runner on first, the Mountaineers rallied for three runs with a single, a double and single off the SteepleCats reliever.
After a pitching change and with a man on first, Vermont hit a ground ball that ricocheted off the third-base bag and out of play for a ground-rule double. The next batter walked, leaving the bases loaded. But reliever Isaac Lippert was able to bear down and forced Picard to ground to third, ending the threat and keeping the score 10-5.
North Adams responded in the bottom of the seventh, scoring three runs without a single hit. It picked up four walks, plating a run. Then a wild pitch plated another, and a ground ball brought in a third before the inning's end. The eight-run margin left the SteepleCats with plenty of room to close out the game.
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