by Joseph Gravellese, North Shore Navigators Sports Information Department
Five starting pitchers, five impressive outings. Coach Jason Falcon and the North Shore Navigators couldn’t have asked for much better than that out of their pitching staff so far. Winthrop native Mike DiCato became the latest Navigators starter to pitch well in his season debut, giving up two runs on four hits in six innings of work. The Navs rode DiCato’s strong start and a six-run seventh inning to a 13-2 victory over the Sanford Mainers at Fraser Field – their second win over Sanford in as many nights. North Shore improves to 3-2 on the young season, while Sanford drops back to .500 at 2-2.
Falcon had high praise for DiCato (1-0). “I think DiCato was real nervous coming into this one since this is so close to his hometown, and he had all of his friends and family here,” he said. “He’s got some history on this field. He just went out and dealt all night long and gave us a chance to win. Our pitching staff has been outstanding thus far.”
DiCato, a junior at UMass-Amherst, faced the minimum through four innings before working himself out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth. With the Navs holding a 1-0 lead thanks to John Hill’s first inning sacrifice fly, DiCato yielded a one-out single to A.J. Casario. One out later, Will Greenberg and Greg Hopkins drew back-to-back walks, but DiCato ended the threat by striking out Klint Reed looking with a fastball over the outside corner.
"That was huge,” said DiCato. “I just wanted to go out there and throw strikes, and let the offense do the work. The big inning rallies were huge – those are a pitcher’s best friend.”
From there, the Navigators’ bats took over. Sean McNaughton greeted relief pitcher Kyle Davis with a leadoff double in the bottom of the 5th. Peter Fatse attempted a sacrifice bunt, but the throw was wide, putting two runners on. With Mike Provencher batting, Davis threw a wild pitch, allowing McNaughton to score.
The Mainers’ defensive woes continued later in the inning. With runners on first and second with one out, the Navigators executed a successful double steal. Kevin Reimer’s throw to third base sailed into left field, scoring Fatse. Tyler Kuehl capped off the inning by rattling a double off the wall in left, bringing home Nick Belcher to make it 4-0.
Sanford clawed back into the game with two runs in the top of the 6th, but the Navs put it out of reach by scoring seven runs over the next two innings. North Shore batted around in the seventh, with Kent Graham, Sean McNaughton, and Nick Belcher each driving in two, increasing the lead to 11-2.
Belcher’s double off the wall in left center was the closest any Navigator has come to hitting a home run at Fraser this year. “I’ve been getting a lot of good swings on the ball lately, but they hadn’t been falling,” said Belcher. “I got a first pitch fastball and just tried to get some good wood on it, and I did.”
He said that the Navs’ recent offensive success has come as a result of being patient at the plate. “We’re taking more pitches,” he said. “Then we’re putting the ball in play.”
For the second consecutive night, Sean McNaughton was the spark plug at the top of the order, going 3-for-4 with a double, two runs, and two RBIs. “I just feel comfortable [hitting leadoff],” said McNaughton. “That’s where I hit at college, so I just feel good there. I saw some good pitches and was able to hit the ball hard.”
The Navs capped the scoring with two more in the eighth, with Kyle Geason picking up his first RBI of the season on a sacrifice fly to deep centerfield. The 13-run output is the best in Navs history – topping Wednesday night’s 7 runs at Sanford. Falcon was pleased by this turnaround from the previous two games, in which the Navs were held scoreless in consecutive games.
Chris Kowalski was impressive again in relief for the Navigators, allowing one hit and fanning a pair in two shutout innings. The Boston College sophomore has yet to give up a run in three appearances this season. “Kowalski did great,” said Falcon. “He gives us exactly what we need – he goes out there and gives the other team no hope. That’s the idea I like – the other team thinks that if this guy comes in, it’s going to be hard to score.”
The Navigators continue their four game homestand on Friday night against the Lowell All-Americans. Mike Gallo (1-0), who got the win out of the bullpen on opening night, will start on the mound for North Shore. On Friday night, students who completed the Comcast reading program will be honored in a pre-game ceremony. Fans can find out more details about this and all other events at the team’s official website, www.nsnavs.com.