Thursday, July 30, 2009

Townies, Mariners battle for top seeds in ITL playoffs

"Townies, Mariners battle for top Seeds...."
By Jason Brisbois / Cape Ann Beacon

CAPE ANN - For Cape Ann’s Intertown Twilight League baseball teams, it’s all over except for the seedings.

The ITL’s regular season culminates with the league’s Homerun Derby on Saturday — and with a total of four scheduled games remaining before that between them — both the Manchester/Essex Mariners and Rockport Townies have clinched two of the four playoff berths that are traditionally up for grabs in the league.
The biggest question remaining at this point is who will finish where in the standings, and by virtue of that, what the postseason match-ups will look like as a result.
“Ipswich has a handful of games, five or six games, left,” says Manchester/Essex player/coach Bryan Lafata. “We play Hamilton twice this week, and they’re right on the border. The third team in contention is Rowley. So we’ve got Rowley, Ipswich and Hamilton fighting for spots, and obviously the seeds are up in the air.”

Rockport has one game left to play, traveling to play the last-place Tories in Topsfield on Friday night. Manchester was slated to play home-and-away games against Hamilton on July 28 and 30, with a makeup game against Ipswich tentatively set for Saturday morning before the derby. The playoffs would begin on Tuesday for both teams; game one for both series is slated for Aug. 4.
While both teams are officially in the playoffs, neither is going to be playing out the string lackadaisically. Members of the Mariners and Townies both know how key getting a high seed can be to winning it all.
“We’re hoping to get second and get home field advantage,” says Townies player/coach Jeremy Spittle. “I think we play better at home than we do on the road. A win Friday night gives us a better chance of ensuring we get second.”
Spittle is speaking not only to the advantage of having the hometown crowd cheer on the team, but also the Townies’ familiarity with the unique dimensions of Evans Field. Evans’ right field is literally a hill that raises from the park’s ground level, with a thick, wooded area dominating the field’s border.
“Some of our guys are really good at hitting towards the woods,” says Spittle. “There are definitely advantages there. But I assume having home field is the same for every team.”
It certainly seemed to work out for Manchester/Essex last season, as the Mariners earned the top seed in the tournament and ended up winning it all. The Townies, ITL champs in 2007, were knocked out in the first-round, three-game series against Manchester/Essex last season.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs,” Spittle says. “Last year, we started off and beat them in the first game, and then lost to them in back-to-back games, and they went on to win the championship. It will come down to if we get good pitching and defense and get timely hits.”
Interestingly, both teams gave a bit of a preview of what to expect during Monday night’s scoreless tie between the two. There was a miscommunication and no umpires were available at the game’s scheduled start time, pushing the game back about an hour. Townies’ pitcher Greg Kistner (4 hits, 5 strikeouts and 3 walks in 6 innings) and Mariners’ starter Lucas DaSilva (7 hits, 4 strikeouts and 1 walk in 6 innings) both pitched gems for their respective teams and gave a sample of the type of competition to expect once the playoffs begin in earnest. Quality pitching is a primary reason the Mariners and Townies are in first and second place, respectively, in the standings.
“Pitching has been our backbone,” says Lafata. “Our rookie, DaSilva, has been doing great. Mike Gibbon and Steve Stout had great starts last week. Stouty is starting to pick it up again, and Mike is 6-1. Ryan Marques has been tremendous out of the bullpen. Matt Hildebrandt has had some spot starts for us and done well.”
The Townies’ staff has also rounded into form at this point of the season.
“We’re really getting help from the pitching rotation,” says Spittle. “Brent Currier has been his usual, consistent self. He’s given us two complete games in the last week-and-a-half. Greg Kistner has one win and two ties and three complete games in that span. He’s pitched great. He’s been very consistent and given us a lift when we needed a lift. We had a couple of guys who were struggling, and Kistner has filled right in and given us the boost we needed. Derek Dawson has also filled in with some good starts and a couple of good relief appearances.”
In spite of Monday’s scoreless tie between the two teams, the bats have also come alive for both Manchester/Essex and Rockport.
“Nate Bertolino is hitting the ball well,” says Lafata. “Rory Gentile is starting to pick it up. We’ve added Alex Ray, who was playing on a Senior Babe Ruth team, and he’s hitting over .600 for us right now. He’s going into his junior year at Manchester Essex High School and hitting the ball tremendously for us. We’ve bumped him up to the two-spot in the order. Brett Cahill, the catcher for GHS, is hitting the ball pretty well.”
Spittle credits his team for spreading the wealth on offense and grinding out at-bats to get on base. It was a strategy that helped the Townies come back from a 4-0 deficit and pull out a victory against the Tories recently.
“It hasn’t really been the same person every night,” says Spittle. “Top to bottom, I think everyone has contributed. We had a couple of guys heat up over the last week-and-a-half. Brent Currier and his brother Brock have been swinging the bat well for us.”
Both teams have been able to overcome the constant rainouts earlier this summer and the attrition that affects leagues such as this when summer rolls in and vacations and other responsibilities arise.
“My problem sometimes is trying to a get full, complete lineup here,” says Lafata. “Last week, I was in Myrtle Beach. Our cleanup hitter got married and was gone for a week-and-a-half. We had two guys who coach AAU ball who were gone for a week-and-a-half. It’s been tough, but a lot of guys have jumped in and done a good job of filling in and taking over.”