In the two days leading up to their regular-season finale, the Danbury Westerners had multiple opportunities to secure a playoff spot by winning once against a West Division foe. Entering the Roadhouse at Rogers Park on a four-game skid, the Westerners sought revenge against the North Adams’ SteepleCats after getting swept in a doubleheader at Joe Wolfe Field to avoid having to focus on other league games.
Carson Ballard struck out the first two batters he faced in his second start of the summer, working a clean frame after Bam Talavera brought down a high throw and applied the tag. Jack Sefrino faced the same scenario in the bottom half on Matt Ruiz’s two-out single down the middle, striking out Will Cook looking for the same result. The Salem State College righty did not replicate Ballard’s two-strikeout performance in the second, working around a hit by pitch on Billy Gerlott’s deep flyball and a fielder’s choice.
Nathan Lincoln fought off five 0-2 pitches for a two-out single in the third, staying at first when Jake Reinisch struck out swinging. Right as the rain started downpouring in the bottom half, Jack Reynolds made a perfect throw that retired Jason Claiborn as the contest entered a rain delay. After approximately 20 minutes, the umpires officially called off the 0-0 deadlock. Per league sources, the contest will not be made up.
Danbury finishes third in the West Division and concludes the regular season at 21-22, their first campaign with a sub-.500 record since 2019. North Adams sits at 12-29 with two games left in their 2023 season.
That cancelled contest may be the only one that was suspended (at the time), but it was not the only one affected by stormy weather and/or torrential downpours as five other contests were postponed or outright cancelled. Despite the high number of matches that did not happen, the Westerners officially clinched a playoff spot. This will be Danbury’s first postseason appearance since they won the NECBL championship in 2021.
Officially locked into the No. 7 seed in the NECBL playoffs, the Westerners will play either the Vermont Mountaineers or the Sanford Mainers in the first round. Vermont currently sits at 24-15-1, holding on to a one-game lead in the North Division with two contests left. Losers of three straight heading into the last day of regular season play, the Mountaineers have thrived this summer because of their potent offense, which has batted .251 with 191 RBIs and a .743 OPS.
All-Stars TJ Williams and Brandon Butterworth have been at the forefront as the only two Vermont players with batting averages over .300 in 210. While those two right-handed sluggers are among the top three on the team in hits and the top five in RBIs, Santino Rosso and Nate Stocum provide the power at the dish. Combining for nine of the team’s 22 big flies, the Western Carolina outfielder has driven in more runs than he has hits behind five homers while the Hofstra infielder leads the team with 25 RBIs. Mixed with Marshall Toole’s 16 runs batted in and .292 batting average, there is a reason that the team nearly replicated their 32-12 record in 2023.
Pitching has been a much different story for the Mountaineers, who have seen arms come and go across the eight weeks of the regular season yet still posted the league’s third-best team ERA at 3.45. Despite all of the changes, All-Star West Division starter Nolan Sparks has been a consistent starter in the rotation, with 43 strikeouts in 31 innings and a 2-1 record. Outside of the Rochester righty, Colton Book has the most punchouts of any bullpen arm, while Max Moss has a team-leading two saves in 11 appearances.
Sanford, meanwhile, is surging for the North Division crown with a four-game winning streak and an 8-2 record in their last 10. Standing one game back of first place at 24-17, the Mainers have scored 22 runs in their last two games behind a balanced offensive attack. Like Vermont, Sanford has two batters hitting over .300 in All-Star Logan Poteet and Matthew Polk, who have combined for 40 RBIs. The Vanderbilt catcher leads the league in batting average with at least 25 games played at .350 in 100 ABs, while his collegiate teammate is one of three Mainers with two triples.
Poteet is tied for the team lead in RBIs with All-Star Devan Bade, who is batting at a .276 clip with three home runs. Cal Hewett and Devin Russell also have three homers, but all three Sanford hitters stand behind Jeremiah Jenkins, who has five despite batting .187, on the longball leaderboard. Although they had none in the NECBL All-Star Game, the pitching staff is not to be taken lightly by any means, as their three-headed monster in the rotation can send teams packing early.
Seamus Barrett is the strongest arm in that rotation by a wide margin, with a league-leading 58 strikeouts (five ahead of Braden Quinn) and a 3.23 ERA to go with it. Following the Loyola Marymount righty in that rotation are Ryan Dee, Cody Bowker and Justin Honeycutt, two of whom have been used in relief scenarios. Honeycutt is the lone exception with eight starts, sporting a 1.39 ERA with 27 strikeouts, while Bowker and Dee are just as efficient in terms of surrendering a limited number of runs.
Regarding head-to-head matchups, the Westerners lost the season series 2-1 against the Mainers and got swept by the Mountaineers, playing a doubleheader at Rogers Park against both North Division clubs. Every round will be a best-of-three series, with the higher-seeded team hosting both games one and three (if necessary). Danbury’s postseason action begins at either Montpelier Recreation Field (Vermont) or Goodall Park (Sanford) on July 31 at 6:30 p.m., with game two occurring at the Roadhouse at the same time on August 1.