The Newport Gulls closed out the 2016 regular season in front of 2,809 fans with a 4-1 victory over the Keene Swamp Bats on Monday night at Cardines Field. The win is the 25th victory on the season for the Gulls, and secured the second seed in the NECBL Southern Division Semifinal playoffs, which begin Wednesday, August 3 in Newport at 6:35 p.m. vs. the third-seeded Danbury Westerners.
Game Two of the league’s quarterfinal postseason round will be Thursday, August 4, at 6:30 p.m. at Rogers Park in Danbury, Connecticut, and Game Three, if needed, will be held back at Cardines Field at 6:35 p.m. on Friday. Gates open in Newport at 5 p.m. for tomorrow night’s opening playoff contest.
The Gulls, who at 25-19 have now achieved the 25-win mark for 16 consecutive seasons, took the early lead on the Swamp Bats in the second inning of Monday’s finale. Trey Harris singled and later stole second base to put himself in scoring position. Travis Youngearned the RBI single through the right side, scoring Harris from third.
The Gulls increased their lead to 2-0 behind an RBI double by Stephen Scott that was deep off the left-field fence, scoring Troy Dixon,who reached base on a fielder’s choice.
Keene (19-25) battled back, recording its lone run of the game in the fourth inning. Gulls pitching put themselves in trouble with back-to-back walks to start the inning. The Swamp Bats converted with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to deep center, scoring Ryan Costello, and the Gulls lead was cut in half, 2-1.
Newport produced a couple of insurance runs in the home half of the sixth inning as the heavy hitters came to the plate. Dixon, leading the league with a .371 average, doubled to the deepest part of right-center field to start the rally. Harris added his second base hit of the evening as he also doubled deep off the left-field fence, scoring Dixon. Chris Chatfield sent a sharp liner, grazing the glove of the Swamp Bats’ third baseman, and Harris hustled home, extending the Gulls lead to 4-1.
The Gulls pitching staff worked all sides of the plate, keeping the Swamp Bats off balance for most of the game. As a staff, the Gulls gave up three hits and struck out seven. Matthew McGarry (2-3) earned the win for Newport after coming in relief in the fifth inning for new starter Paul Campbell, who was added to the Gulls roster at the league deadline last week.
Campbell tossed four complete innings, giving up one run on one hit with five strikeouts and three walks. Garrett Barker andMatthew Murphy did their job in the seventh and eighth inning, respectively, and All-Star pitcher Blake Cairnes closed the game out with his sixth save of the season.
The Gulls have now won 25 games for 16 consecutive seasons, having never finished an NECBL season with under 25 wins, an ongoing NECBL record.
Newport was 4-2 against the Danbury Westerners this season, going 2-1 vs. the NECBL’s oldest active team at Rogers Park and 2-1 at Cardines. All-time in the regular season, the Gulls are now 47-21 vs. the Westerners, 26-7 at home and 21-14 at Rogers Park.
The two teams most recently met in the postseason in 2012, when Newport swept the Westerners – then aligned in a different division – to win the NECBL Championship. The Gulls swept the Westerners in the 2002 division finals, defeated Danbury two games to one in 2003’s quarterfinals, and swept them in the quarterfinals in 2005, for a combined postseason record of 8-1.
Meanwhile, Newport finishes its 44-game schedule with Dixon leading the league in batting average at .371 (.524 over his last 10 games), and Scott third in RBI with 32 and tied for second in home runs with 10. Projected Game One starting pitcher Hunter Schryver, in his third year in the NECBL and second with Newport, finishes the regular season second in ERA at 1.75 and tied for third in wins with five; his teammate Andrew Gist leads the league with 52 strikeouts.
Finishing with the league’s third best winning percentage at .568, Newport was 12-10 at home and 13-9 on the road, while the Gulls pitching staff set a new NECBL record with 422 strikeouts, beating the Gulls previous league record of 405, which stood since 2008. Newport also led the league in total attendance with 45,904, averaging 2,087 fans per game, not including the 3,116 who attended the NECBL All-Star Game at Cardines Field.
The winner of this week’s Southern Division Semifinal Series will go on to the Southern Division Championship Series and face the Mystic Schooners, Ocean State Waves, or New Bedford Bay Sox. Mystic, the league’s last charter franchise, defeated Newport in the 2015 division finals but lost in the League Championship Series to the Vermont Mountainteers. New Bedford and Ocean State are tied for the fourth seed, and will have a do-or-die play-in game scheduled for tonight.
Newport, meanwhile, has won the NECBL Championship, the Fay Vincent Sr. Cup, a league-record six times, in 2001, 2002, 2005, 2009, 2012, and 2014. The Gulls have advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs every year except for 2011, and have advanced to the finals with a division pennant 10 times, in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, and 2014.
For up-to-date postseason information, follow the Gulls on Twitter @NewportGulls or visit www.newportgulls.com.