Holyoke, MA -- There was nobody they would have rather had on the mound in an attempt to turn things around. Trent Franzago was the tentative ace of the rotation in the days leading up to the season, and delivered with a fine performance on Opening Day that fell apart in the hands of the bullpen. On Thursday night in Holyoke, the right-hander from Georgia Southwestern University was called upon to deliver again in the hope that his efforts would help thread the final game on the SteepleCats’ four game roadtrip. This was redemption for Monday night’s finger-chewing loss in the bottom of the eleventh, in which the Blue Sox escaped with a 4-3 victory after blowing one run leads in both the eighth and ninth. Franzago had nothing but praise for Monday night’s starter Tim Thiesing, admiring his toughness and ability to pitch out of trouble against a tricky Blue Sox lineup. In the hour leading up to first pitch, Franzago also told me that he wanted to go at least six innings so that he could give his teammates down in the bullpen an easier night of work.
The top of the first began with promise when newly implanted leadoff hitter Chantz Mack (SO, Univ. of Miami) walked against Holyoke starter Chris Capper and stole second off catcher Ronnie Freeman. Mack, who could not recall ever batting leadoff in his entire career, later came around to score from third when first baseman Kyle Boudreau hit a slow grounder to first with the infield drawn back. For the second time in as many nights, the SteepleCats had drawn first blood in the early innings. Enter Franzago (0-1), who showed a live fastball and a hard-breaking slider throughout his entire outing. Although walks over the past week had been a major issue for North Adams pitching, Franzago’s problem was that he was too close to the strike zone.
The Blue Sox rebounded quickly with four runs in the first following a pair of singles from leadoff hitter Frank DeSico and Matt Tenaglia, who then advanced a base when shortstop Marc Magliaro mishandled the transfer throw to second baseman Corbin Blakey on a potential double-play ball off the bat of Freeman. Franzago then plunked cleanup Trey Mancini with the bases loaded and nobody out to tie the game at 1. After striking out designated hitter Tom Murphy, Franzago walked Sam Eberle, scoring Tenaglia from third to give the Blue Sox a lead they would never relinquish. After a fly out to center field from Paul McConkey, shortstop Kris Richards broke the inning open with a two-run single that scored both Freeman and Mancini.
For the fourth straight evening, the SteepleCats would have to play from behind. The deficit increased following Freeman’s RBI single in the second to score DeSico following his second base hit and Richards’ RBI groundout to second base that scored Murphy, who led off the third with a double. In another recurring theme that surfaced throughout the entire roadtrip, the ‘Cats bats were noiseless as third baseman Nico Hernandez and right fielder Steven Zavala collected harmless one out singles in the second and third. Franzago appeared to have calmed down with a perfect fourth inning, but soon after let in the Blue Sox seventh and final run as McConkey struck an RBI single that scored Mancini from third after he led off the fifth with a double. With runners at the corners and one out, Franzago was removed from the game for freshman left-hander CJ Tsoumakas, who threw one pitch to Richards to produce an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Capper (1-0) was pulled after the sixth, his night complete having allowed just two hits and one SteepleCat (Mack) to reach second base after the first inning. Tall, hard-throwing righty Chris Jenkins came in to pitch the seventh and eighth innings, striking out the side in both frames including all three batters he pitched to in the eighth. He did land in some trouble however when Magliaro walked with one out in the seventh shortly after a Blakey double into the right field corner. But Mack then struck out and after a two-out walk to DH Sam Russell, hot-hitting center fielder Jacob Daniel struck out looking with the bases loaded.
Tsoumakas was perfect in the sixth and seventh and had retired nine straight Blue Sox before a two-out single by Richards in the bottom of the eighth. Following a walk to pinch-hitter Evan Scott, the southpaw got DeSico to ground into a force play at third base.
North Adams got a small fire started with three outs to play with and a five-run deficit in the ninth inning off Holyoke right-hander Brett Yarusi. Hernandez and Magliaro walked in full counts, sandwiching a Blakey groundout to second base. Mack then reached base for the third time in five tries with a hard-hit RBI single that scored his friend Hernandez from second. With runners at the corners and one out, Yarusi struck out Russell on an 0-2 count before inducing a game-ending ground ball as Daniel hit into the force out at second.
The SteepleCats (1-5) return home to Joe Wolfe Field on Friday, June 17 as they entertain the Danbury Westerners (2-1) at 6:30. It will be the first game in a weekend tilt at Joe Wolfe Field. If you’re not coming to the Joe with the family or friends, make sure you listen or watch the game by accessing the TeamLine link on the team’s website by visiting www.steeplecats.com or the league’s website at www.necbl.com.