Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Monarchs Fiending Some Playoff Life

The Hastings Monarchs inaugural season has been a tale of two halves. A sputtering offense, a shaky bullpen, and a severe lack of team cohesion surfaced during the first half of the season. The Monarchs looked left for dead as they went free-falling into an exasperating 0-13 hole. They entered the second half of the Westchester Rockland Wood Bat League , however, a different team.

The gang that couldn’t swing straight is now flourishing with their situational hitting. Unlikely hero Austin Friedman’s walk-off RBI single, which lifted the Monarchs to a pivotal 8-7 victory over the Rye Patriots this weekend, is indicative of this.Hastings has now won seven of their last 13 games, including a signature win over then-no.1 Pleasantville on Independence Day Weekend.

The emergence of Kenny Smith, who leads the WRWBL in strikeouts with a whopping 73, has been paramount to success. Smith, an Ossining native who whiffed 14 in his start Saturday, will get his biggest start of the season Thursday night.

Smith is slated to face the 14-10 New York City Thunderdogs at Roberto Clemente Park in the Bronx.

“Every game is a must-win at this point,” explained Travis Thornton, the Monarchs’ loquacious, enthusiasm-bleeding player-manager.

“We know they are must-wins, we said that from the get-go. We said, ‘we have to win, or we’re done.’ A lot of it depends on the tenth place team (either the Westchester Cubs or the North Castle Lookouts) and how many wins they finish with. But at least right now, we’re still in it (the playoff hunt). We try to take it one game at a time.”

Still, nothing is guaranteed. The Monarchs will need to run the table over the upcoming four-game slate to leapfrog the Bronx County Astros and the Rye Patriots in the standings. The Monarchs, Astros, and Pirates are all logjammed in 11th place. Each team has seven wins.

This weekend, the Monarchs split a pair of double-headers. They lost both games to the third-place Danbury Barons Saturday. They redeemed themselves on Sunday, winning the twinbill against the Patriots.

The first game had a flair for the dramatic, as Friedman’s game-winner allowed the Monarchs to gut out the extra inning dogfight. Thornton surrendered a two-run jack to give Rye a 7-6 edge in the top of the sixth. His younger brother, Luke Thornton, would atone for the pitching gaffe. The SUNY-Oneonta outfielder, who went four-for-four with a run scored and 4 RBI, ripped an RBI single to deadlock it at 7-7.

That’s when Friedman, who has had more opportunities at the dish since the departure Ed Fabian and Nelson Colon, sealed the deal with an RBI single.

Dan Bohm, who has evolved into a starter after Thornton was sold on his solid relief pitching, earned the victory.

The Monarchs cruised to a 5-1 victory in Game 2, behind a 12-hit attack.
Since the Monarchs posted that pulsating, 7-6 upset of Pleasantville, they’ve shown no residual effects from the first half drowning. A patchwork group has clicked offensively and sound defense has materialized.

How has the program been able to overcome such a beyond dreadful start?

“We’re a much more consistent lineup,” explained Travis Thornton. “We have pretty much the same guys showing up. The pitching has been better. Kenny Smith has been a big part of that.”

How will Thornton and the Monarchs approach these next four playoff-fate determining games?

“It’s do or die. We need to win all four. The only game we’re thinking about right now is the game ahead of us, that’s the way we look at it. One game at a time.”