Saturday, July 5, 2008

Big second inning dooms Navs against Sanford, 9-1

By Zander Kean, Navigators Sports Information Department

Almost halfway through the NECBL season, the North Shore Navigators stood percentage points ahead of the Sanford Mainers in the North Divison standings. And to this point, the Navs had the Mainers’ number, winning all three of the teams’ previous meetings.

But on Saturday, Sanford’s offense roughed up starter Mike DiCato and the Navs dropped their second straight decision, 9-1 at Sanford’s Goodall Park.

Sanford (15-8) came up with the game’s first run in the bottom of the first on a two-out single by Kyle Groth. Brian Harris lined a double to right-center, and then Groth pulled a DiCato pitch between Tyler Kuehl and Matt Costello, sending Harris across the plate to put Sanford up 1-0.

The score didn’t stay that way for long, as Will Greenberg belted a three-run homer into the trees behind Goodall Park’s 295-foot right field fence that put the Navs (13-8) behind by four. Corey Hunt then brought in another run with an RBI single to bring in a fifth Mainer run.

But Sanford didn’t stop there, and DiCato did not retire another batter. With one out and the bases loaded, Anthony D’Alfonso sent a DiCato fastball sailing over the right field fence to make the score 9-0. DiCato left the game at that point, recording two walks and two strikeouts in his outing.

As D’Alfonso rounded the bases, DiCato had a heated exchange with plate umpire Doug Merther, who had called several close balls in the inning. After the game, head coach Jason Falcon backed up his hurler.

“As a pitcher myself I take it very personal. For a kid like Mike DiCato to come out and do what he did and come off the mound the way he did, [the umpires] were in the wrong,” Falcon said.

On a night when the Sanford hitters found every gap, Pat Lehman and his 0.33 ERA didn’t offer the Navigator offense any favors. Coming into the game with 25 strikeouts against just four walks, Lehman struck out five batters over his first three innings.

The Navs were able to break through in the top of the fourth. Sean McNaughton, who had been quiet at the plate since his 4-for-4, four RBI game against Holyoke on June 30, led off the inning with a double to deep left. Costello followed with a single to send McNaughton around, putting the first Navigator run on the board.

After joining the team earlier this week, Costello was immediately inserted at first base and into the cleanup spot. So far he has thrived, with four hits, a home run and four RBI in just 11 at bats. Following the game, he talked about being comfortable in a Navigator uniform.

“To tell you the truth, I wish I had shown up a little bit earlier. I’m a little mad I didn’t come here for the first game,” he said. “I think this is definitely a good spot for me and I’m enjoying it, especially because they are letting me hit and play the field. Everyone else wanted me to just pitch for them.”

With one out in the top of the sixth, Mike Provencher drove a double to deep left-center, and McNaughton walked to chase Lehman from the game. The Sanford starter finished with eight strikeouts against two walks, giving up one run on four hits. With runners on second and third, Kyle Davis struck out Kuehl to end the North Shore rally.

The North Shore bullpen was able to keep Sanford at bay for the rest of the contest. Jason Markovitz got an opportunity to throw his longest outing of the season in relief of DiCato, and began by striking out the first two batters he faced to end the second inning. Markovitz dominated Sanford for the rest of his four-inning outing, retiring the first ten batters he faced and yielding just two hits while striking out six.

Markovitz left after getting Will Greenberg to pop out to open the sixth, and Chris Kowalski picked up where the lefthander left off. Kowalski recorded two groundouts on a total of six pitches to retire the side, and went on to surrender just one hit over 2 2/3 innings.

“Every time, me, Jay and [closer Chris] Prescott have this little team in the bullpen. [Markovitz] comes in and throws, I come in and throw, then Prescott comes in and closes it down,” Kowalski said. “Coming in after Jay, it gives us a chance to win every time. You’ve just got to come out there every night with your best and beat ‘em.”

Tomorrow, the Navs will look for their first win against the Northern Division leading Keene Swamp Bats at Fraser Field. Costello, who compiled a 9-4 record on the mound at Volunteer State Community College, will get the start.

Kowalski knows that the team needs to put this loss behind them and come out strong again tomorrow.

“You just go back and swing the bats and play the game. You’ve got to give it to [Sanford], they came out and swung it. We have to get back to the basics and throw it better. The starters need to go a little longer, but that stuff is going to happen and we’ll rebound back.”

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