The Newport Gulls defeated the Danbury Westerners 6-5 in Game Three of the NECBL Southern Division Semifinals on Friday night at Cardines Field, and will move on to face the Mystic Schooners in the Southern Division Championship Series this weekend.

Game One of the second-round playoff series is set for 6:05 p.m. at “The Shipyard,” Fitch High School Field in Groton, Connecticut. Game Two will be played back home at Cardines Field in Newport on Sunday, August 7 at 6:35 p.m. (gates open at 5 p.m.). If necessary, Game Three would be held at Mystic at 6:05 p.m. on Monday; any rain-outs would push the schedule back a day.

The Westerners put up a significant challenge to the Gulls in the postseason’s opening round. After a 7-2 victory in Newport on Wednesday, the Gulls twice took the lead on Thursday night at Danbury, only to see the Westerners’ offense roar back into the lead, and an eventual 10-8 win, setting up Friday’s decisive Game Three.

Gulls starting pitcher Andrew Gist dazzled in his playoff debut, tossing six strong innings while allowing just two runs – one earned – and striking out seven and only allowing one walk, scattering five hits. While Gist earned the win, Paul Campbell closed out the game for Newport in the ninth, picking up a postseason save.

Newport pitching was backed up by a nine-hit offensive attack, highlighted by lead-off hitter Cole Fabio’s 3-for-3 night that included a double, an RBI, two walks, and two runs scored. Middletown, Rhode Island native Mark Powell drove Fabio home on one of those runs with a clutch two-out, RBI-double in the 5th that gave Newport a 2-1 lead. While each team would later add a run, a critical Trey Harris three-run homer over the fence in left in the 7th inning turned a 3-2 Gulls lead into a comfortable 6-2 advantage.

The comfort wouldn’t last long, as Danbury, facing elimination for a second time, answered with three runs of their own in the eighth, including a Shawn Blake two-run homer off of reliever Blake Cairnes. But the Gulls bullpen was able to preserve the one-run advantage, shutting the door on Danbury’s season and sending Newport to the Southern Division Championship Series to face Mystic.

The Gulls finish the summer 6-2 vs. Danbury, after winning the regular-season series four games to two. Newport has the same 4-2 record over Mystic heading into the series, including a 3-0 record at The Shipyard and 1-2 record at Cardines. Mystic has home-field advantage via their NECBL-best 29-15 record, finishing the regular season four games ahead of the 25-19 Gulls.

All-time, the Gulls are 22-11 vs. the Mystic Schooners. The team has a deep history that can be traced back to its days as a charter franchise in the NECBL, and has played against Newport in the past as the Bristol Collegiate Baseball Club, Pittsfield American Defenders, Pittsfield Dukes, Berkshire Dukes, Thread City Tides, and Eastern Tides. All-time against the franchise, the Gulls are 54-28 dating back to the 2001 season.

In the playoffs, Newport is 6-3 against the franchise. In 2001, the Gulls defeated the Eastern Tides two games to one in the division finals, moving on to defeat the Keene Swampbats for the franchise’s first league title. Newport swept the Pittsfield Dukes in 2008 in the division finals, and swept Mystic in the division finals in 2013. The Schooners returned the favor with a two-game sweep of Newport in 2015.

While Mystic’s pitching staff finished the regular season ranked 11th in team ERA, the team wields the league’s third best defense. The Schooners’ powerful offense carried them to both the league’s best record and a victory in their quarterfinal round playoff series vs. the New Bedford Bay Sox; Mystic scored 19 runs in the series (although Newport plated 21 total vs. Danbury in the first round).

The Schooners offense finished the year with an incredible .295 team batting average, paced by 96 doubles – three shy of a 2012 team record held by Newport – 34 home runs, and 292 runs scored, averaging nearly seven per game. The team also finished with a league-high 229 walks and .396 OBP, to go along with an NECBL second best 66 stolen bases.

Four Schooners hitters finished the year in the league’s Top 10 in batting average, with the batting title runner-up, Nick Mascelli, finishing at .369, just off the pace of Newport’s Troy Dixon, who hit .371.

In Game One, Newport is expected to send Milan, Ohio southpaw Adam Wolf to the hill. A sophomore at Louisville, Wolf owns a 2-1 record and 1.95 ERA in 11 games (three starts) with the Gulls. He struck out 30 batters to just 13 walks in 27 2/3 innings pitched, and has appeared already in relief in the postseason. Wolf faced Mystic once this year, tossing four scoreless innings and striking out five en route to a save on July 30 at Cardines Field.

Mystic’s probable counter will be Kyle Dube, a Southington, Connecticut native who is heading into his senior year at Fairfield University. The righty owns a 2.76 ERA and 3-0 record in eight appearances, five of them starts, with 34 strikeouts to 12 walks in 29 1/3 innings of work. He faced Newport on June 12, tossing two frames in relief, allowing a pair of earned runs.

The extended broadcast pregame show for all three games in the series will begin at 5:55 p.m. on the NECBL Broadcast Network regardless of location or first pitch. NECBL South All-Star Mystic Broadcaster Mike Miezejeski will join Gulls broadcasters Nick Lima and Tolin Vaccaro for the series, available to listen to for free or watch live via www.newportgulls.com.

For more information about the Newport Gulls, visit facebook.com/newportgulls, follow the Gulls on Twitter @NewportGulls or visit www.newportgulls.com.

Ryan M. Belmore

Ryan M. Belmore is the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers. Send questions, tips, and story ideas to Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.