For the second straight season, the Middleboro Mocka Rays (19-2-1) and Boston Havoc (14-6-2) face off for the right to be crowned MABL 18+ champions. With temperatures dropping to 55 degrees on Thursday night in game one, the Mocka Rays won their second straight shutout to place themselves two wins away from repeating as champions.
Center fielder Nick Radcliffe provided all the offense with two hits and two RBIs in the first three innings. Radcliffe was ranked second on the team in RBIs (18), behind DH Mike Knell who finished the season with 26.
On the mound, starter Justin Sylvia was nearly unhittable, allowing just four baserunners the entire night. He carried a perfect game through three innings, before Havoc center fielder Brendan Pounds reached on a single to start the fourth. However that did not last long, as catcher Derek Pizzaro fired a strike to throw out Pounds attempting to steal second on the next pitch.
“People need to start reading the scouting report on (Pizzaro),” said Radcliffe.
Sylvia finished the night striking out 10 hitters, and he now leads the Mocka Rays’ staff with 17 this postseason. This was his first win this postseason and second complete game.
“I’d say my curveball helped shutdown the Havoc,” said Sylvia. “I was able to throw it over the top for a 12:6 curveball, and at times changed my arm angle to make my curveball look like a slider to throw off the batter. It seemed to work well, so I stuck with it.”
The Mocka Rays’ rotation have allowed two runs or less in eight of their nine postseason contests, while striking out 57 batters along the way. They have complied a 7-2 record in the process. With this 2-0 victory, the Mocka Rays have now outscored the Boston Havoc (formerly the Boston White Sox) 11-0 in their last three postseason matchups.
“Each of us just need to keep being a team player,” said Sylvia. “Having each other’s backs defensively and offensively, and keep taking it one pitch at a time.”
Game two of the series is currently in progress at Pierce Playground in Middleboro, MA.
2021 All-Star pitcher Ryan Fleming has pitched just twice since June 24, 2021, for the Waltham Cutters. Four of the seven Cutters’ games in July were postponed or called off in the middle of the game due to inclement weather. This includes that infamous tie against the Singing Surgeons on July 17.
“This season has been anything but normal and that’s coming from someone who started during a COVID-19 shortened season,” said Fleming.
Fleming returned to the mound on August 1 against the Milton Fighting Irish. He proceeded to fire a four-hit shutout, walking two and strikeout ten. Half of his strikeouts were as a result of his curveball, one of three pitches in his repertoire. He also features a fastball and changeup.
Additionally, Fleming provided his own run support with an RBI fielder’s choice and then he proceeded to score from first on an RBI double by catcher Devin Conroy. This was in the middle of a four-run first inning that provided all the run support Fleming would need in the contest. Waltham won the game 5-0.
“I am very much a momentum pitcher,” said Fleming. “And from my perspective pitching from ahead is infinitely easier.”
The win improved Fleming’s record to 2-0 this season and the Cutters’ record now stands at 10-4-1. He has started each of the last two games for Waltham firing 12 2/3 innings of two-run ball, surrendering eight hits, and collecting 19 strikeouts during those contests.
“Once I am grooving, as long I am making competitive pitches, I don’t think there a lot of teams that can beat me straight up,” said Fleming.
During his 2021 campaign, Fleming has allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his eight appearances. His only outlier this season came in his June 24 start, where he was charged with nine runs on 11 hits in four innings against the Middleboro Mocka Rays (15-2).
This comes one season after finishing with a 3-1 record in seven appearances, where he gave up two runs or fewer in six of those games to help him win the MABL 18+ Rookie of the Year award in 2020.
“What’s impressed me most about Ryan is his dedication to the game in always working to make himself better,” said Jeff Coveney, President of the Boston Men’s Baseball League and the Waltham Cutters’ manager.“That extra work has paid off on the field.”
When he is not pitching, Fleming patrols right field. Offensively, he currently is tied for second on the Cutters in hits (11) and is ranked third in RBIs (5).
The Cutters return to action against the Greater Boston Bandits (4-11) on August 11. The first pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Nipper Park in Waltham.
When examining the defending champion Middleboro Mocka Rays 13-2 start to the 2021 season, you will see Mike Knell’s offensive dominance right at the heart of the action. He has led his teams in both hits and RBIs this season. His 17 hits and 19 RBIs has earned him a 2021 Boston Men’s Baseball League All-Stars selection for the MABL 18+ division in addition to being awarded the Offensive Player of the Month in June.
Knell entered the league in 1999 with Boston Braves, after turning down an accounting job at the firm Coopers and Lybrand, where the manager, Jeff Gauthier, referred him to this league. Knell currently works as the Chief Accounting Officer at Charles River Laboratories. In addition, he is currently in his 19th season coaching his children’s soccer and basketball teams.
Knell is currently playing in his 23rd season in the Boston Men’s Baseball League with his fifth different team, which has resulted in six championships. He played every position on the field and currently has 432 career hits, scored 272 runs, and knocked in 280 RBIs in the process.
“I played on a lot of great teams hitting in the middle of the order,” said Knell. “Hitting is contagious. When you are playing with a lot of great players, you get a lot of extra at-bats.”
His advice to players who are struggling offensively is to “not think too much” at the plate and “to go back to basics and hit some line drives.”
Playing on the third team of his career, he won two championships with Netherfield Reds from 2005-2009, winning the titles in 2006 and 2008. He recalled that his favorite championship from that time period came in 2008 when his team pulled off a surprising upset of the Boston Tigers team that entered the matchup with a 24-2 record to open the postseason. The Reds entered the series as an underdog with an 11-13 record and only 10 players qualified to play in the postseason.
The teams split the first two games in convincing fashion.The Redswon game 1, 11-5, while the Tigers pitched an 8-0 shutout three nights later in game two to even the series and set up a win or go home matchup in the series finale.
The Tigers mounted an early 4-0 lead heading into the fifth inning. The Reds flipped the script, scoring all 11 of their runs in their final three innings and surrendering just three runs in the bottom of the seventh to cap the scoring. Knell finished the game with three hits and three RBIs to help pace the offense.
They proceeded to complete two “grueling” five-game series against the Senators and Athletics to complete the championship run with each series going the distance. Netherfield was undefeated in elimination games that postseason with a 3-0 record.
Knell recalls his favorite personal performance came game three of the 2008 championship series against the Athletics where he fired a complete game, surrendering just two runs on three hits and striking out seven hitters along the way. He escaped a bases-loaded no-out jam in the first to keep his team in the game, helping his team to earn a close 3-2 win to give his team a 2-1 series. This performance was critical because no other pitchers were available for the Reds at the time.
“It was one of those (games) where everything goes our way and it was sort of destiny,” said Knell. “You sort of had a magical feel about that team.”
Offensively, he added a .320 average and lead his team in both hits (16) and RBIs (12) that postseason, marking his best offensive postseason performance of his career in both categories. Knell’s teams earned playoff berths in 20 of his 22 previous seasons. This included four championships between 2012-2020 with the Cambridge Spinners and Middleboro Mocka Rays.
Knell’s top performances of this season came during back-to-back games against the Boston Jakes (2-11), and Waltham Cutters (9-4) on June 20 and 24. He combined to go 5 for 8 with seven RBIs and one strikeout during that stretch helping the Mocka Rays outscore the Jakes and Cutters 31-3 in the process.
“Any time you can bring a player of Knell’s caliber to a team it’s a big get,” said Mocka Rays manager Tyler Ferdinand. “His veteran presence as well as being a proven MABL champion has helped us get over the hump we were stuck on the last couple of years.”
Unfortunately, two days later he would suffer a torn upper left quad against the Singing Surgeons. As a result of two games being postponed due to inclement weather, he only missed one contest against the Boston Jakes. His doctor informed him the injury would heal in about 4-6 weeks.
“I hit a gapper and was thinking a home run and I was about to round first and I heard a loud pop,” said Knell. “Getting old sucks.”
He returned to action in Friday night’s contest against the Waltham Athletics, finishing 1 for 3 with a single, but was thrown out at second base trying to stretch it to a double. However, a complete-game shutout by Athletics’ starter Alec Christian spoiled his return as the Mocka Rays were defeated 1-0, snapping a six-game winning streak.
Mike Knell and the Mocka Rays will seek redemption in the team’s rematch against the Waltham Athletics at Nipper Park in Waltham on Wednesday night. The first pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m.
Saturday’s matchup between the Waltham Cutters (8-3-1) and Singing Surgeons (4-7-1) began under partly cloudy skies, but the weather gradually got worse. It started with a small sprinkle but quickly became a steady downpour in the bottom of the fourth with occasional lightning flashing across the sky. The umpires called the game off in the top of the fifth inning citing concern for player safety and the game ended in a 4-4 tie.
On Saturday, the Cutters’ offense finished with just three hits but when faced with a chance to knock in runners in scoring position, they pounced on the opportunity. Third baseman Brett Fundell launched a 2-run double in the top of the first, while All-Star first baseman Dan Wilson added an RBI single two innings later. Both Fundell and Wilson accounted for three of the seven base runners for Waltham in this contest. Additionally, they added their final run on a balk by Surgeons’ starter Zeke Golnick, scoring second baseman Tim Vardais in the third inning.
“Our plan was to be aggressive at the plate and swing early in the count (expecting fastballs),” said Wilson. “We stole 3 bases during the game to get guys in scoring position knowing it would be tough for the catcher to make an accurate throw.”
The Waltham Cutters currently sit atop of the South division but are currently just one point behind in the standings behind the Merrimack Valley Marlins (8-3). They have outscored their opponents 52-33 this season. Offensively, they are led by Dan Wilson and center fielder Adam Anderson who combined for 22 hits and 14 RBIs.
The Surgeons scored all their runs without base hits, using two sacrifice flies in the first inning and third innings and two fourth-inning wild pitches to pull even. The two wild pitches in the fourth inning were crucial because they occurred as the rain began to intensify and nobody was certain how long the game would last.
“It didn’t appear as if the weather affected things for my club,” said Surgeons’ DH Steve Pinner. “I remember toward the end telling one of the players to be ready to take an extra-base because the opponent had to pick up a wet baseball to throw. We saw this with the increase in wild pitches as the game progressed.”
Sitting at 4-7-1, the Surgeons will look to earn their first win since June 26 when these two teams next meet again on July 22. On the mound, their rotation is led by Jack Stockless, who has started the season with a 3-1 record, a 2.95 ERA, and 14 strikeouts on his way to being named to the MABL 18+ All-Star team. Stockless leads the staff in wins and strikeouts. All-Star center fielder Peter Blunt added two more hits, helping take over the team lead in hits with 10.
“Top to bottom they were making solid contact and spraying the ball all over the field,” said Cutters All-Star RF Ryan Fleming. “Even the plays we were making were on hard-hit line drives or sharp grounders.”
Both teams are set to face off again on July 22 and 24. Waltham defeated the Surgeons in their first matchup this season, 10-5 on June 5.
The defending champion Middleboro Mocka Rays (12-1) continued to prove why they are the best team in the Boston Men’s Baseball League 18+ Division with back-to-back wins against the Waltham Cutters (7-3) and Singing Surgeons (4-5). Their contest on June 24 against Waltham was considered the biggest matchup of the season, because both teams were division leaders, owned the two best records in the league and featured high scoring offenses; however, it was Middleboro’s offense came out firing early and they never looked back.
Middleboro’s offense wasted no time striking first with a four run first inning, which saw nine of 10 hitters bat in the inning and they collected five singles along the way. After the Cutters answered with their only run in the bottom of the third, the Mocka Rays blew the game wide open with a six run fourth inning.
DH Mike Knell and manager/shortstop Tyler Ferdinand combined for five hits and five RBIs to pace the offense. This was on a night where the team drove in nine two-out runs. Combine that with a complete game three hitter from starter Andrew Millard and you have the formula for how they pulled off a 10-1 victory over Waltham.
When asked about what the key to his big night was Knell said, “Hitting it where it was pitched and not trying to do too much with it.”
“The key was guys who you know normally are not out there, because we were a couple of guys missing, just coming in and doing their job when they are called on,” said Ferdinand.
This offense finished with 19 total baserunners and kept the pressure on Waltham all night to keep pace. The Mocka Rays have been an offensive powerhouse all season, outscoring their opponents 113-35. Knell has been clutch for his team all season long, leading the team in both hits (16) and RBIs (19). This kind of production is one of the main reasons why Middleboro leads the league in both runs scored and hits (136).
“Every day it seems like it’s somebody different,” said Knell. “We had like three or four starters out today and that’s what happens. Just the next man up. Just like Belichick’s philosophy.”
During the pandemic shortened season in 2020, they used a similar formula, outscoring their opponents 103-38 in the regular season in route to an 8-1 record and the top seed in the playoffs. During the playoffs, opponents closed the gap a little, but Middleboro still ended up outscoring teams 52-29 to secure the league title. They finished the postseason with a 7-2 record.
“The Rays continue to play excellent ball coming off their championship run in 2020,” said Jeff Coveney, President of the Boston Men’s Baseball League and Waltham Cutters manager. “They are a solid all-around team that brings a very powerful offense.”
As for their pitching, head coach Tyler Ferdinand has the luxury to turn to seven pitchers with ERAs below 2.00. Andrew Millard leads the staff in innings pitched (23) and strikeouts (17). Justin Sylvia and Nick Radcliffe have the most wins in the rotation combined 4-0 on the season. As a staff, they have held their opponents to two runs or fewer in seven of 13 contests this season. However, with their offense scoring 10+ runs in 5 games, including twice with 20+ runs, they are not required to be perfect every night.
“(Millard) is a worker and a grinder. He seems to bear down when guys get into scoring position and with men on base,” said Knell.
The Mocka Rays will look to win their sixth straight game when they host the Boston Jakes on July 11 at 4 pm from Pierce Playground in Middleboro. A rematch between Waltham and Middleboro is schedule to take place on August 5 at 8 pm.