Friday, July 18, 2008

Navs' offensive barrage too much for Lowell

Zander Kean, Navigators Sports Information Department

As the sun set and the lights turned on at Lowell’s Alumni Field, ominous storm clouds threatened to throw a downpour on top of the North Shore Navigators as they took on the All-Americans. And finally, the rains came in the bottom of the ninth – but not before the Navs pounded out 15 hits en route to a 7-0 victory.

Any chance of a slow start following the Navs’ two consecutive off-days was immediately wiped away, as Justin Little ripped a single to right to open the game. Little then swiped second base and scored on a one-out single off the bat of Sean McNaughton, giving North Shore (19-10) the early 1-0 lead.

“The offense dictated the game from the very beginning and after two days off, I was happy to see that we were not, sort of, silenced,” head coach Jason Falcon said. “I was nervous there that we were going to be a little bit stagnant there with the bats, but the guys came out swinging and that is important.”

The Navs would build their lead in the following inning. Nick Belcher reached on an error by Lowell (9-22) starting pitcher Connor Fahey and Kent Graham singled to right, moving Belcher into scoring position with two out. Then Kyle Geason delivered, driving a 1-1 pitch into right-center. As the ball was misplayed on the outfield, Belcher and Graham both came around to score, making the score 3-0.

The Navs made it three consecutive innings with a run in the third. After McNaughton beat out an infield single and Matt Costello doubled him over to third, Tyler Kuehl chopped a ball between the drawn-in third baseman and shortstop, plating the fourth Navigator run.

That offense was more than enough for North Shore starter John Folino. Making just his second start for the Navigators, Folino opened his outing by striking out Dan Godefroi. He remained sharp throughout his six shutout innings - yielding just four hits, fanning two, and walking none.

After the game, Falcon praised Folino’s efficiency on the mound.

“He almost pitched a boring game. Before I knew it, it was the fourth inning and he was only sixty pitches deep. We are very happy with him,” Falcon said. “Having him throw a good six innings tonight on only eighty pitches, that’s awesome.”

The hit parade did not let up in the fifth. Little bounced a single up the middle to open the frame, bringing Mike Provencher to the plate. And Provencher drove a Fahey offering off the right field fence, hustling into third with a triple that sent Little across the plate. McNaughton followed with a sacrifice fly to right that gave the Navigators a 6-0 advantage.

After Belcher singled to center and John Hill reached on an error to open the top of the sixth, Lowell manager Ken Connerty ended his starter’s day, bringing in Matt Fontaine in relief of Fahey. Graham welcomed Fontaine with a double off the left field fence, knocking in Belcher for the seventh North Shore run. That closed the book on Fahey, who surrendered seven runs – five earned – on twelve hits in five-plus innings. He struck out two Navigators and did not walk a batter.

For the game, Graham finished 3-3 with a run scored and an RBI. He raised his batting average 35 points, and appears to be fully recovered from a back injury that limited his playing time in June.

“I am feeling a lot better. I am feeling healthy, which is most important,” he said. “I know what I can do and obviously I am starting to get hot now, so hopefully I can just ride it into the playoffs and beyond.”

The team’s 15 hits were spread throughout the lineup, with nine different hitters getting in on the action. Falcon spoke about his team’s ability to produce from top to bottom.

“I’m happy with [Graham], and with Kyle Geason. Kyle Geason is swinging the bat real well right now - a bunch of our guys are. Even the new guys are coming in and swinging the bat aggressively. Justin Little, as well, is swinging the bat pretty aggressively. So with those three guys - if they can get to where they normally are, we are going to be really potent one through nine.”

Mike Adams finished out the game in relief of Folino, giving up just one hit over two innings. He began the bottom of the ninth, but rain, thunder and lightning officially ended the game before Adams could.

With the win, North Shore moved into a temporary tie with the Keene Swamp Bats for second place in the NECBL Northern Division. Both Keene and the Sanford Mainers – who came in a game ahead of the Navs – were on the road tonight. Sanford traveled to Holyoke to take on the Blue Sox, while Keene battled the Vermont Mountaineers in Montpelier.

Saturday, the Navs face off against the North Adams SteepleCats at 5:30 PM. Originally, a makeup game with the Torrington Twisters was to be played at 2:00, but that game has since been rescheduled for July 31.

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