– Andrew Garner drove in a game-high six runs – including a grand slam and a two-run homer – as the Danbury Westerners cruised to a 14-4 victory over the visiting North Adams SteepleCats in Game 1 of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) Western Division Semifinal on Friday night at Rogers Park.
The 10-run deficit was the worst of the season for the SteepleCats (22-21), who were stymied on the offensive end throughout the game and fell behind by six early runs against the Westerners (24-18), who now are one win from reaching the Western Division Finals for the second time in three seasons.
Garner was nearly unstoppable for the home side, putting the game out of reach early and often with while finishing with two hits, both of them bombs. As a team, Danbury finished with 12 hits, as the Westerners’ offense came alive for a dominant showing to open the postseason.
North Adams, meanwhile, could not get anything going, stringing together only six hits over the course of the game to go down quietly in the franchise’s first postseason game since the 2010 season. In that year, the SteepleCats advanced to the Western Division finals, but will now need to win two in a row to avoid falling in the first round for the eighth time in 10 postseason appearances.
Adrian English (Barry) provided the only real spark in the SteepleCat lineup, a late three-run home run in the top of the ninth to cut a 14-1 deficit to 10 runs, but that would be the closest that North Adams would get.
SteepleCat starter Brian Hunter (Hartford) did not last long, going only four inning while surrendering six runs – two earned – on just two hits, but the damaging one was the grand slam allowed in the second. The righty struck out four and walked six while hitting two batsmen.
Ben Brewster, meanwhile, was dominant, at one point sitting down 13-straight SteepleCats en route to the victory. The southpaw worked six innings of one-hit baseball, allowing only one run with two walks while striking out six.
The Westerners did not wait long to hop aboard, as the home side took a two-run lead in the bottom of the first. Despite not allowing a hit, Hunter did not help himself with a four-walk inning, as Daniel Spingola drew a bases-loaded walk to score Mathew Boulter before Mike Orefice came in from third on a wild pitch to make it 2-0 after a run.
The trouble continued in the second inning, as Hunter worked quickly to hand the defense two outs, but an error at third proved to be costly and prolonged the inning. After a hit batsmen and a walk, Hunter served up a grand slam to Garner to put the home side ahead, 6-0.
After two scoreless frames, the Westerners tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the fifth against reliever Christian MacDonald (UNC-Wilmington), as Tom Zengel led off the inning with a single and stole second before coming home on a base hit by Jake Gronsky. An error moved Gronsky all the way to third and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Michael Thomas would push the edge to 8-0.
North Adams finally got on the board in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Shane Klemcke (UT-Pan American) scored Bryan Soloman from third, but the home side would answer with another run in the bottom of the inning, as Zach Shank doubled to lead off and would later score on a two-out single by Tyler Gurman to push the lead to 9-1.
Four more runs would come across in the bottom of the seventh, as Garner would strike again with another blast. With two runs already in, the left fielder unloaded against Bubba Baroniel (Nova Southeastern) for a two-run shot to increase the lead to 13-1.
The home side would add one more in the eighth to round out the scoring before English’s late blast in the top of the ninth.
The SteepleCats and Westerners continue their first-round series tomorrow, Aug. 4, with a Game 2 showdown back in the Berkshires. First pitch from Joe Wolfe Field is set for 6:30 p.m., as the SteepleCats will look to stave off elimination.