Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Navs fall to Vermont, but clinch playoff spot

Zander Kean, Navigators Sports Information Department

On Monday afternoon, the North Shore Navigators rode up to Montpelier, Vermont looking for a decisive win over the Mountaineers to vault them into the postseason. A win combined with a Holyoke loss would officially clinch a Navigator playoff spot, allowing the team to turn its attention to securing home-field advantage for at least the first round.

And as the Navigators and Mountaineers finished up infield practice, the first game of Holyoke’s doubleheader went final, with the Sanford Mainers coming out on top. The Navs could secure their postseason future with a victory. But Vermont’s Eric Smith had other ideas. Smith bested the Navigator lineup over six shutout innings, helping his team hand North Shore a 5-0 loss.

Smith started out strong in the first, striking out the side against the Navs’ potent top of the order. The Navs (23-13) found ways to put runners on base over the next several innings, but Smith stranded runners in scoring position in the second and fourth innings.

On the hill for the Navs, Jimmy Lisowski did his best to match Smith’s performance. With the help of a pickoff in the second inning and a caught stealing by catcher John Hill in the fourth, Lisowski surrendered just one run over his first four innings.

“Early on in the game I felt good, I was mixing up my pitches well and hitting spots,” he said. “When I made mistakes they made me pay, I missed some spots and left some balls up. They were hitting my changeup pretty good, I probably should have stayed away from that a little bit more.”

Those missed spots caught up to him in the bottom of the fifth, though his outfielders nearly allowed him to escape unscathed. The first two outs of the inning were recorded on a pair of highlight-reel catches – a diving grab in the left-centerfield gap by Sean McNaughton followed by a leaping snag by Justin Little on a tailing line drive to center.

But then, Vermont’s Jonathan Roof, Nick Panzarella and Nick Harris came up with consecutive hits, the last a two-run double that put the Mountaineers (20-17) ahead, 4-0.

Lisowski then got out of the inning and battled his way through two more innings of work. Though he certainly gave up more runs than he would have liked, he gave the Navs’ bullpen a needed break. Beginning Tuesday, the Navs will play six games in three days; a stretch that will test the limits of the team’s pitching staff.

“This one of those games where I didn’t want to waste another pitcher,” head coach Jason Falcon said. “Jimmy was doing his job. We weren’t going to score many runs, and I wasn’t going to send another guy out there. If we had got some runs then who knows, but Jimmy did an outstanding job of keeping us in the game.”

The Navs did have their chances to get back in the game, but a few chance bounces kept them off the scoreboard. In the fourth inning with a runner on third, Hill drove a sharp grounder off Smith’s glove – but it bounced straight to Roof who made a timely throw to first. And with two men on in the seventh, Chad Zurcher ripped a ball down the line in left that would have cut the deficit in half – but it fell just a few feet foul.

Falcon is confident that although his players might be feeling the effects of a long season, his lineup will be poised to come through in the playoffs.

“I thought we were in a pretty good rhythm coming into today, but we got shut down. I think our hitters are going to be fine; we’re just getting to the end of the year here a little bit. But we’ve got six games in three days here so they’ve got to get it going, and I think they will.”

And though it didn’t happen the way they had hoped for, the Navs arrived back in Lynn with a playoff spot in hand, as Sanford defeated Holyoke in the second game of their doubleheader. But just because the team is guaranteed a playoff spot does not mean their regular season work is complete.

For one thing, the Navs still have a shot at the number one overall seed in the Northern Division. And the Navs would still love to have home field advantage over the Keene Swamp Bats in the first round. Keene’s Alumni Field has a remarkably short fence in center and right-center, and the Swamp Bats have benefited from that dynamic against the Navigators, taking all three of the teams’ meetings there.

“We don’t really want to go play Keene up there twice if we can avoid it,” Falcon said. “We’ve still got a lot to play for here, as far as I know none of the playoffs have been set. So obviously we’d like to chase first if we can, and we’d like to keep Keene behind us if at all possible.”

Tomorrow, the Navs can make strides toward those goals as they host a doubleheader against the Lowell All-Americans. Mike Gallo will get the start for North Shore in game one, with Mike Adams working the nightcap.


Anonymous said...

Boy - they have a lot of baseball to play in the next few days.... let's hope they can pull it off. Hey you have a few more players to interview under "Know Your Nav's" are you going to be able to interview each player??

Joe J said...

Unfortunately, I can't say whether or not we're going to get to each player. Last night (7/29), Joe Grav interview about three players for "Know Your Navs" so we'll try and get those up ASAP. We started the interviews mid-season, and judging by the positive responses we've got from them, we seriously regret not starting them sooner.

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