Pittsfield Suns top Westfield Starfires, enter wild card playoff game Monday at Worcester

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PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield Suns finished the 2019 season with the most wins in franchise history and were above .500 for the first time since their first season. Right now, that's all in the rearview mirror.

"I'm very excited for a chance to play for a championship," Suns first baseman Matt Valente said, after the club beat Westfield 6-4 in the final regular-season game. "Playoff baseball's always fun, and I'm excited to get going."

The Suns, who by going 28-27 won the most games in club history, qualified for the Futures League playoffs for the third consecutive year. They will open the playoffs Monday at Worcester, against the fourth-seeded Bravehearts. The first pitch is 7:05 p.m.

Worcester won the season series 5 games to 4, and the Bravehearts became the fourth seed after losing to regular-season champion Brockton 10-2.

"They'll pitch [Angelo] Baez, who is the pitcher of the year in the league," Suns manager Matt Gedman said of their wild-card opponent. "If you get to him early, it's one game, and anything can happen. We have [Mike] Nocchi going, and I've got a ton of faith in him."

By virtue of a 10-3 win over North Shore, Bristol earned the other first-round bye. North Shore will host Nashua. The lowest remaining seed will play at Brockton on Tuesday in the first game of a best-of-three series.

Both pitchers have faced their opponents one time in this regular season. Baez, a 5-foot, 8-inch right hander from Division II St. Thomas Aquinas, went six innings in a 9-2 win over the Suns on July 28. He held Pittsfield to two runs on seven hits.

Nocchi, who pitched for Babson in the NCAA Division III World Series, got a win on June 19. He went six innings, and gave up four unearned runs on seven hits in a 9-4 win by the Suns.

"It'll be exciting" to get the first playoff start, said Nocchi, who was 3-2 with a 5.91 earned-run average. "I think we have a good chance against Worcester. We beat them a few times. I just want to go out and give my team a chance to win."

Gedman said that Nocchi won't find the moment too big because he pitched in the D-III World Series. The right hander from Babson agreed with that assessment.

"Pitching in a game like the World Series, I'll probably never pitch in a game as big as that again," said the pitcher from Manasquan, N.J. "Tomorrow will be a lot like that. I've been there before. I've dealt with the pressure. I'll go out there and do what I've done all summer."

If the Suns win the first game, Jon Morrison, 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA, and Kelvin Sosa, 2-2 with a 2.84 ERA, are scheduled to follow, should the Suns get that far.

Nocchi will get his chance to pitch against the Bravehearts, because the Suns did enough to hand the visiting Starfires their 41st loss of the season. It was the most losses for a team since the former Seacoast Mavericks also went 15-41 back in 2015. Had the Suns lost, they would have fallen to the sixth spot in the playoffs.

Pittsfield got the lead in the second inning and never gave it up.

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The Suns loaded the bases against Westfield starter Jack Fox with no outs in the second. Then with one out, Nate Cormier walked on a 3-2 pitch, forcing in Valente with the first run. After Jack Cooney's grounder with the infield in forced Jack Culumovic at home, Troy Strack hit a two hopper to third. Westfield's Christian Walsh threw low, the ball skipped away, and two runs scored to make it 3-0.

On another staff day, Pittsfield's Max McDowell scuffled through three scoreless, hitless innings. Because it was a staff day, McDowell notched his first Futures League win. Matt Clarkin gave up an unearned run in the ninth, but recorded his second save.

The Starfires made it 3-2 with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth inning against Brodie Altiere. Tommy Quinn hit an RBI double and Fox followed with an RBI infield hit. Altiere struck out Danny Crossen and got Fox on a force play to end the threat.

One inning later, the Suns erupted for three more runs. The big hit of the fifth inning was a two-run double by Taylor Beckett. The infielder from Princeton had been hitting .091 with runners in scoring position and two outs, before his big double that two-hopped the wall in center. And the Starfires could not catch up.

"I'm feeling good," said Beckett, who plays at Princeton. "I finally got my swing back, just in time for the playoffs."

Beckett and Dom Hughes each had two hits for the Suns.

"We were kind of skidding this past week," said Beckett. "We definitely needed to win tonight. We had all of our host families here, so it was a great atmosphere. It feels good going into the playoffs with a 'W.'"

The winners of Monday's wild card games will play best-of-three playoff rounds starting Tuesday. By the end of the week, the Futures League could crown a champion.

"We have guys who can play. We don't have a ton of guys but we have guys who are here who can play. I know at the end of the summer, it's been a long road," Gedman said. "We'll see what happens this week.

"For the most part, I'm happy with the effort they gave me this year, and we move on."

———

Westfield     000     201     001     —     4     6     1

Pittsfield     030     030     00x     —          9     1

Fox (5), Jordan (2), Ocasal (1) and Quinn, Levesque. McDowell (3), Altiere (2), Henry (1), Moran (1), Clarkin (1) and Petersen, Schneider. W — McDowell (1-0). L Fox (2-7). Sv. — Clarkin (2). 2B — W: Quinn. P: Beckett, Cormier. 3B — P: Hughes. T — 2:26. A — N/A.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.

Pittsfield     030     030     00x     —          9     1

Fox (5), Jordan (2), Ocasal (1) and Quinn, Levesque. McDowell (3), Altiere (2), Henry (1), Moran (1), Clarkin (1) and Petersen, Schneider. W — McDowell (1-0). L Fox (2-7). Sv. — Clarkin (2). 2B — W: Quinn. P: Beckett, Cormier. 3B — P: Hughes. T — 2:26. A — N/A.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.

Fox (5), Jordan (2), Ocasal (1) and Quinn, Levesque. McDowell (3), Altiere (2), Henry (1), Moran (1), Clarkin (1) and Petersen, Schneider. W — McDowell (1-0). L Fox (2-7). Sv. — Clarkin (2). 2B — W: Quinn. P: Beckett, Cormier. 3B — P: Hughes. T — 2:26. A — N/A.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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