Friday, August 6, 2010

Mariners in control of own destiny as playoffs approach

"Mariners in control of own destiny as playoffs approach"
By Jason Brisbois/
Posted Jul 28, 2010 @ 09:04 AM

It’s that time of the year where teams competing for playoff spots actually start rooting for other teams in the Intertown Twilight League to win games.

It’s a little odd, but true. With Manchester Essex now firing on all cylinders and coming close to entrenching itself as the top seed in the ITL, and the curtain call for the regular season a mere two weeks away, the Mariners find themselves with some unlikely allies.

That is, until the playoffs start.

“I was hanging out with some of the Ipswich Chiefs, and they want us to beat Rowley so they have a shot,” explained Manchester Essex player/coach Bryan Lafata. Now that we’ve locked up the top spot, some teams want us to pretty much win out because they know they don’t have a shot at that spot. They want us to knock the other teams out that they’re competing with.”

It’s an enviable position to be in. The Mariners are 13-4-2, ahead of second-place Hamilton (12-7) and third-place Rockport (10-8). If they win out, they are guaranteed the top seed in the ITL playoffs.

“At this point, we’ve definitely clinched a playoff spot, and we’re in control for seeding,” said Lafata. “We have Rowley this week (scheduled for back-to-back games on July 27-28), then the week after we end the season with Hamilton after a make-up game with Topsfield. That series looks like it’s going to come down to deciding home field overall. Like every year, it comes down to the last week.”

The Mariners have won their last six in a row, with the most recent being a 6-0 win over Ipswich. The victory showed multiple reasons to believe that Manchester Essex is hitting its stride at the perfect time. Nate Bertolnio hit his third homerun in three games against the Chiefs, and Steve Stout continued his strong season by pitching a three-hitter. To boot, younger players like Alex Ray and Brett Cahill are available to play more often, and are now making their presence felt.

“Most of the guys on the team are now out of college and they haven’t been playing as much,” said Lafata. “Alex and Brett have been playing non-stop since April – high school, Legion ball, travelling teams. To bring in guys who have been swinging the bat six, seven times a week, just adds a new dimension. And to be honest, they’re younger, so they run better and go out and play the game hard.”

The team will also continue to lean on its pitching staff, which is punctuated by the performances of Stout and Mike Gibbon.

“Stout and Gibbon have been our workhorses for the last three, four years,” said Lafata. “When it comes down to big games, you know you’re going to see one of our two lefties. Right now, they’re right on point. Stout has been getting stronger and stronger as the season goes along.”