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.
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.
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.