SteepleCats win NECBL opener in extras


Photo Gallery | North Adams Steeplecats play New Bedford Bay Sox

NORTH ADAMS — All C.J. Price was trying to do was protect home plate. All the North Adams SteepleCat third baseman did was win the opener for his team.

Price's opposite field single with two strikes scored Ben Bengston from third base in the bottom of the 10th inning as the SteepleCats walked off with a 5-4 win over New Bedford Thursday night at Joe Wolfe Field.

The count was 1-2 when Price, who plays at Cornell, hit the ball over the infield and into left, allowing Bengston to score easily.

"It was an outside fastball and I was just trying to protect with two strikes,' said Price. "It happened to fall in."

Price finished the night 3 for 4 with three runs-batted in. The No. 8 hitter in the SteepleCats order got his team's first hit since the sixth inning, which he got with an RBI single that had given manager Mike Armstrong's team a 4-2 lead.

But New Bedford rallied for a pair of runs in the eighth inning to tie the game. The Bay Sox left a runner at third in the eighth and had the go-ahead run thrown out at home in the 10th. That set the stage for the SteepleCats' rally in the 10th, which sent the gathering of 476 home happy.

"That was a great way to start the season, especially at home in front of the home faithful," said Armstrong. "I was excited."

It was an eventful 10th inning, to say the least.

Tanner Bird, who had put out a fire with 1 2/3 innings of shutout relief, gave way to Stepniak in the 10th. Stepniak retired the first two batters but walked Ryan Wolfsberg on a 3-2 pitch. The next hitter was Keith Klebart, who roped a shot down the left-field line. Left fielder Jean-Francois Garon bobbled the ball, but recovered as Wolfsberg rounded third and headed home. Shortstop Bengston caught the throw, spun and fired home where catcher Kyle Brennan put the tag on Wolfsberg to end the inning.

Bengston led off the home 10th and took the first pitch from reliever Matthew Leon off of his wrist. Bengston took second on a passed ball, so New Bedford manager Kyle Fernandes issued an intentional walk to Keaton Wright, who hit a two-run home run way back in the first inning.

Dustin Shirley bunted the runners to second and third, and Brennan was walked intentionally to load the bases. Noah Vaughan was out on a foul pop, which set the stage for Price's heroics.

"I was just really trying to take one pitch at a time, take some deep breaths before each pitch and just live in the moment," Price said.

What wasn't lost on Armstrong was the performance of his pitching staff in the opener. Starter Peter Lannoo, Price's Cornell teammate, gave up two runs on two hits in five innings of work. Four of the five North Adams relievers held New Bedford scoreless. First among equals was Bird, who walked two and struck out three in his scoreless and hitless outing.

"They were very effective," said Armstrong. "A lot of the guys who come in just pound the strike zone. They can mix pitches in the strike zone and they all have pretty decent velocity."

With North Division rival Valley coming to The Joe tonight, the SteepleCats will look to bring some of Thursday's momentum along with them.

"We have a very talented team, no question. Obviously, the first week or two is getting to know our guys and what our pitchers can do," said the second-year manager. "New Bedford is good, too. We got lucky. C.J. came up with the big hit.

"I think we could have had more runs. I think it's a good, exciting start for what might be down the road."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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