Laconia, NH – Back to business as usual. The SteepleCats were not taking anything for granted one vacation day removed from their second win of the season in Sanford on Wednesday night. There was still plenty of work to be done, there always is when there’s nowhere to go but up. So with their third straight road game coming up in Laconia on Friday night, North Adams knew it could build off their 9-3 victory that improved their record to 2-9. They rejoiced in the thrill of victory: that night’s starter Trent Franzago even commented on his Facebook page (albeit sarcastically) that he almost forgot how good it felt to win. When Clayton Kuklick told me in the middle of their eight-game losing streak last week that this team was still searching for that team concept, he left the statement open-ended because he knew it was a matter of time. The first-year skipper believed in his guys, but he also realized the only way the machine would work is if all the parts clicked at once. Well, it’s off the tracks just in time to start the uphill climb.
The SteepleCats struck rapidly in the first as they put runners in scoring position following leadoff base hits by Chantz Mack and Steven Zavala. On a night full of defensive miscues on a rain-soaked Robbie Mills Field, the Muskrats aided the visitors with a pair of errors by pitcher Alex Eliopoulous and first baseman Chris Costantino on pickoff attempts. Left fielder Drew Gadaire started his night with an RBI single to score Zavala and give the ‘Cats a 2-nothing lead. That lead would hold until the bottom of the third after starter Taylor Hart worked two scoreless innings despite allowing five hits in that short span. Hart would walk Laconia second baseman L.B. Dantzler and hit designated hitter Chris Burke with a payoff pitch to start the inning, before catcher Dylan Kelly tied the game with a 2-run single.
Gadaire opened the fourth with a long home run to left field that made it 3-2 in favor of the ‘Cats, his first of the season and the team’s third. After Mike Zavala reached on a throwing error by shortstop Kendall Keeton, he advanced two bases by stealing second and moving to third on a passed ball. Later in the inning, his brother Steven singled him home to make it 4-2 and give the ‘Cats another two-run lead.
Hart’s night would end with one out in the fifth after giving the lead to Laconia for the first time all night. Following a single to Costantino, Kelly launched a deep, game-tying two-run home run to right-center field. With runners at second and third, Bryant Guilmette entered the game with the go-ahead run just ninety feet away. Guilmette produced an RBI groundout from left fielder Will Johnson before striking out center fielder Bijon Rademacher looking to end the inning as the Muskrats had tacked on three more to take a 5-4 lead. But the SteepleCats would not make it last after shortstop Marc Magliaro tripled home Mike Zavala, who had led off the top of the sixth with a double down the left field line. Magliaro would then get picked off of third base on a strong throw from Kelly for the third out.
Neither side would score in the seventh as ‘Cats right-handed reliever Matt Hinkle (1-0) escaped trouble by getting Kevin Sah in a rundown for the first out after he pinch-ran for Costantino who had led off the inning with a double. Two batters later, Keeton tripled with two outs, a monumental moment in the game had Hinkle not been wise in checking on the baserunner earlier. Third baseman John Ziznewski grounded out to second baseman Corbin Blakey to end the inning, Muskrats fans shaking their heads with no runs in despite a pair of extra-base hits off Hinkle.
In the eighth, North Adams re-took the lead for good after Mike Zavala doubled for the second straight at-bat with one out off Muskrats reliever Charlie Steinman (0-2). Following a walk to Blakey and a Magliaro strikeout for the second out, tricky left-hander Brad Zambron was summoned from the bullpen to face Mack. On the 2-0 offering, Mack smoked a hard grounder to first base which got through for an error to score Zavala. After Steven Zavala was hit on the arm with a 2-2 count, Jacob Daniel came to the plate with the bases loaded and was credited with an RBI after a dropped third strike that got back to the screen
and allowed Blakey to score from third.
Leading 7-5 heading into the ninth, North Adams added five insurance runs that started with a 2-run single from pinch-hitter Brett Frantini, who upped his average to an even .333. Blakey plated up Frantini with a single, Mack chipped in with an RBI base hit, and Steven Zavala put the bow on the inning with an RBI groundout to first base that scored Magliaro, who had reached base following an error by the right fielder.
The SteepleCats (3-9) close out their roadtrip in the Eastern Division against the New Bedford Bay Sox (3-4) Saturday night at 6:30. Make sure you support the SteepleCats and 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.