Northstars bats catch fire in Ashbourne
Missing a few key personnel in the shape of Colin Woods, Sean McMahon, Kevin O’Hare and Stephen Rogan, the Belfast Northstars may have had cause for concern as they moved south to the International Baseball Centre in Ashbourne to take on an ever-maturing Giants team
On this day however, a few new faces stepped up, including one that will no doubt be written on Belfast Northstars teamsheets for many years to come.
The first game saw the visitors strike first – with two outs no less – the heart of the lineup of Mark Smith, Gord Cuthbert, John McKee and Chris Shields all justifying their positioning in the batting order. The Giants would claw one run back in their first half-inning which was punctuated by a slip by starter Melvin Woods that led many of the Northstars to hold their breath. Unfazed however, the left hander would retake the hill and stop the Ashbourne comeback cold. He would not hinder his outing by adding a run of his own in the second (a towering blast that sailed well over the 310ft home run fence down the right field line) and the fourth, along with one from batterymate Smith.
The floodgates would open the next innings; Belfast tacked on another eleven runs which gave Sean Shackley the opportunity to hand the ball to a player that the Belfast Northstars have been waiting for for fifteen years – Josh Cuthbert. The young righthander showed no nerves toeing the rubber; even when giving up a solid hit to Sean Mitchell, Cuthbert fought back inducing fly balls for his defence. The score would finish 18-2 to the visitors.
In the second, Shackley would take the pitching mound himself and after an initial burst of runs – the first inning would end with Belfast 5-3 to the good the second finished with the Stars having tacked on another three – the game would settle down into a pitcher’s duel between Shackley and Mitchell.
Having completed a solid four innings of work, Shackley would pass the ball to Gord Cuthbert who unleashed his arsenal of breaking pitches with the odd fastball to keep the young Ashbourne batters on their heels.
The bottom of the batting order in the form of Shackley, Scott and Lafferty would plate in the last two innings to put the game finally out of reach and a buoyant Northstars team left the IBC happy with the performances but at the same time fully aware that these Ashbourne Giants will doubtlessly be a force in Baseball Ireland soon.
Only half of the team travelled home on Saturday as Gord Cuthbert, Sean Shackley, Melvin Woods, Josh Cuthbert and Jason Scott all remained behind to represent Ulster along with former Major Leaguer Simon Pond against the Irish national side, a matchup that saw the Irish team take the spoils 14-4.
Tougher times ahead for the Northstars as they make the trip south once more on Saturday to take on an unenviable double header against the always dangerous Dublin City Hurricanes and the reigning league champions, the Dublin Spartans, a team that the former Belfast Hornets contingent of the Northstars will have not-so-fond memories of.
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