Stars hold off Giants, Angels fall to Cubs in the last
Working through this 2016 season, the Belfast Northstars have been blessed with a deep warchest of pitching arms, both old and young, fastballers and breaking ballers, left handed and right.
On Saturday, another one was added.
Working off the premise that you can never have too much pitching, Sean Shackley handed the ball to another promising right hander in the second game of a double header against the Ashbourne Giants.
In the first, Mark Smith toed the rubber hoping this outing would last longer than his previous league start against the Cavan Comets when an issue with his non-throwing shoulder took him out of that game early doors. Fortunately in this tilt, the Northstars bats were fully charged and ready to go and it was the coach who kicked things off.
Driving in David Gray (who contributed well with the bat and glove in this outing), Shackley jumpstarted the Belfast offense in the bottom of the first. Over the next four innings, the Stars would explode for 12 runs highlighted by a grand slam for Smith and a hidden ball out at second base, Smith and Chris Shields combining for some trickeration.
Not being content with watching his teammate drill one out, Sean McMahon came within a few yards of joining him with a home run. A 1-run ground rule double would have to do for now. With Colin Woods driving McMahon and McConville home, Smith would step up and send another shot over the left field fence to finish the game off with a mercy rule victory, 18-1 the final.
With one eye on this season and one eye on next year and possible expansion (cough Hornets cough), the Northstars have worked hard on providing new pitchers and catchers. With Josh Cuthbert already starting to rack up innings on the hill and Stephen Hunter’s continuing development behind the dish, Sean McMahon took the mound for the first time this season.
The powerful right hander quickly showed his athleticism, jumping off the mound to field two grounders in the first inning. Supporting their new pitcher, the Stars offence drove in three runs over the first two to give McMahon some breathing room.
A harder test came when the visitors started to show more patience at the plate, walking some hitters; fortunately the defence dug in with some timely fielding, including another couple of catches in the outfield for Hunter.
Showing finesse and nuance as well as brute force, Belfast began to shift runners with small ball baseball, manufacturing another run in the third. Inspired by the offence, the defence stepped up once more, spinning a double play in the fourth. Josh Vuthbert and Mike McConville would then combine (along with a dead ball) to bring home one more score.
Having sustained a thumb injury on his throwing hand, McMahon passed the ball off to his coach. Mounting a comeback, Sean Mitchell would drive in two to pull the score to five three. Shackley would manage to work out of a jam himself to prevent any more scores. Settling in, Shackley would leave more Ashbourne runners stranded in the sixth. A ground rule double by Colin Woods would bring him into scoring position, eventually being driven home by a Josh Cuthbert ground out.
6-3 would be the score into the last. Unbowed, Ashbourne would fight back to take the lead 7-6. In the bottom of the 7th, Chris Shields would continue his impressive season, ripping a double to start the inning off. The ever improving Kevin O’Hare would have a single of his own to have 2 on and 0 away. Shackley would drop a perfect bunt to fill the bases for Melvin Woods.
As he is prone to do, a powerful drive from the left hander to right centre field was more than enough to bring home Shields and O’Hare to give the home team the walk-off.
Next up for the Northstars is a matchup against the Mariners at Hydebank on Saturday – the Belfast side will be hoping to exact some revenge against the Greystones side after a loss earlier in the year.
It was always going to be a tough ask to go to Strandtown to take on a free swinging Belfast Cubs offence and with only nine players it was set to be an even tougher task.
Things didn’t start well for the visitors, the first three batters being dispatched quickly by the Cubs which then jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
Vicky Thompson would jumpstart the Angels offence in the second and coming round to the top of the order, they would find themselves 5-2 to the good. Unwilling to let the visitors get too far ahead, the Cubs would pull the score level once more.
Wanting to prove they’re more than simply big hitters, the Angels defence began to turn the screw, Colin and Melvin Woods combining for the first of their two double plays on the day and Chris Shields showing range in the Angels three man outfield. Inspired by the defensive effort, the visitors would stretch out to 9-5 in the bottom of the fourth inning but once more the Cubs responded cutting back into the Angels lead, 9-8.
After more solid defence, the Angels added another four runs, included two generated from a blast by Melvin Woods. After another double play from the Woods brothers and a one run blast from Colin Woods, the lead became 14-8.
Resolutely defending their home ground however, the Cubs charged back once more to take the game into the seventh inning 14-11. The visitors could only add one more run in the top of the seventh in the form of another round tripper by Melvin Woods and after an unassisted double play by Sinead Shackley in the bottom of the seventh, it seemed that the game was about done.
This Cubs team however, went on to serve notice that they have plenty of fight in them, clawing the lead back, running out every ground ball and, with Christopher Barr ready to pounce from third base, the base on balls walk that was given not only scored the tying run but also the walk-off winner. 16-15 the final score on a sunny Sunday.
A relatively low scoring affair in this years Softball Ulster league but plenty of respect shown on each side.
Next up for the Angels is a home tilt against the Aces of the Belfast Softball Club at Hydebank on Sunday. First pitch 2pm.
Recruitment is still open for Angels softball and Northstars baseball: if youd like to know more contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Neil Boyd