Thursday, June 19, 2008

Navigators capitalize, defeat Holyoke 4-1

Joe Jasinski, Navigators Sports Information Department

Despite both teams manufacturing seven hits apiece, the score was not the same. The reason: the Navigators executed with runners on base…and prevented Holyoke from doing the same.

Behind six innings from starter Adam Herter, the Navigators downed the Holyoke Blue Sox 4-1 on a rain-delayed start at McKenzie Field. The Blue Sox had 13 men left on base, but defending with runners on base is something the Navigators can do quite well, Head Coach Jason Falcon said.

“It’s something these guys know how to do,” Falcon said. “I think the key for us was getting the first out every inning. Yeah, they did get some runners into scoring position, but when you get that first out, it makes a big difference.”

Herter concurred.

“It was all defense today,” he said. “We battled through the jams, our defense made big plays, and our offense was getting it done.”

The Navigator bats wasted no time getting on the board. After centerfielder Justin Little singled to lead off the game and stole second base, Sean McNaughton ripped a single to right, scoring Little for the game’s first run.

In the top of the third inning, an errant throw by starting pitcher Jared Balbach (Sacred Heart Univ.) on a pickoff attempt to first base allowed Kyle Geason to advance to third. Tyler Kuehl then grounded to short, allowing Geason to score, doubling the Navigators lead.

Geason reached base three times in the game, scoring twice. Though his season has started slow (.167 BA), he is getting comfortable and is expected to find continued success at the plate, Falcon said.

“[Geason] is starting to get back into his swing,” Falcon said. “He went the whole spring without playing [because he was red-shirted], so he is just getting used to being in the box, feeling comfortable. He is going to be perfectly fine. We are counting on him to be a big part of our season.”

The top half of the fifth inning provided more insurance for the Navigators. With runners on first and third, Little’s bunt attempt resulted in a misthrow to first base by Balbach, his second error of the night, allowing one run to score. After Balbach was chased from the game, Kuehl then popped a sacrifice fly to left off of reliever Brandon Aich (Kean Univ.), scoring first baseman Kent Graham from third with the second run of the inning and the Navigators’ fourth run of the game.

“I have been saying it from the beginning,” Falcon said. “This is a league that plays small ball, and we have got to move runners. And that is what we did – we moved runners, and we capitalized. That is how you have got to play in this league.”

Holyoke ruined the shutout with their only run of the evening coming in the bottom of the fifth inning. With runners on second and third, shortstop Nick Belcher couldn’t handle an Alex Hilliard (Vanderbilt) groundball, allowing the runner to score from third.

Despite the one Blue Sox run, escaping innings with minimal damage was something the Navigator pitchers did well, Herter said.

“We just work on keeping the ball down and staying within yourself, not over-pitching, and executing pitches in big situations,” he said.

Herter allowed no earned runs on seven hits, striking out two batters and walking one. Jason Markowitz pitched an inning and a third, but left the game after surrendering a walk in the bottom of the eighth. Chris Kowalski, who replaced Markowitz, gave up two walks to load the bases then got Holyoke’s Shevis Shima (Cal St. - Fullerton) to strike out to end the rally and the inning.

Though he feels one more arm might be needed in the bullpen, Coach Falcon said he is happy with his relievers’ work thus far.

“Yeah, everybody is comfortable with their role,” he said. “They know their role and they’re willing to do what’s asked of them.”

The Navigators travel to Keene to take on the Swamp Bats Thursday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

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