By Benjamin Upson
The month of July is coming to a close and that means it’s just about time for teams to begin punching their tickets to the 2022 playoffs! It’s now the All-Star break across the Futures League so everyone gets a couple of days to rest and relax as we gear up for the final two weeks of the regular season beginning on Wednesday. Let’s catch up on what was once again a wild week around the diamond!
This week, we begin by heading back up to Burlington where the Vermont Lake Monsters have officially clinched the first playoff spot of the 2022 season in a 9-4 victory against the Norwich Sea Unicorns on Friday. With a scorching hot record of 37-15 (.712 winning percentage), they locked up this playoff spot with plenty of games left to play. In addition, they have the opportunity to snag the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs as early as this upcoming week, as they currently lead by eight games in that regard.
The Norwich Sea Unicorns had a rough time for most of the past week. As they continue fighting for a playoff spot, they let some games slip away in the closing stages. It began on Tuesday at home against Vermont, up 3-0 in the ninth inning. They surrendered a wild pitch, allowing the Lake Monsters to get on the board. Jimmy Evans (Tufts) dug in a couple batters later and ripped a bases-clearing double to vault them into a 4-3 lead and ultimately the win. Norwich then headed to Westfield on Wednesday, where they were shut out 4-0 and could only manage four hits.
Thursday felt like deja vu as the Sea Unicorns were back at home hosting Brockton. Leading 4-3 in the ninth, pitcher Spencer Fox (Southern Connecticut State) and the defense gave up three runs, on a wild pitch that tied the game and an error by third baseman Connor Podeszwa (Tufts) that handed Brockton a 6-4 lead, one that they hung onto for the win. To cap it off, they lost on the road in Vermont as they clinched its playoff spot.
After losing five consecutive games in a row, things felt pretty bleak for Norwich sitting 2.5 games out of the fourth and final playoff spot. Opportunity struck when the Westfield Starfires rolled into town, a team they were chasing. After trailing 3-0, the Sea Unicorns answered in a big way, tallying all eight of their runs across the opening four innings. Ray Leonzi (Fairfield) and Chris Maldonado (Vanderbilt) pieced together RBI singles in a four-run second inning. Later, it was Drew Kron (UConn) who knocked an RBI single and Tremayne Cobb Jr. (Troy) followed with an RBI double in the fourth. Despite allowing five runs out on the mound, Bryan Albee (Eastern Connecticut State) went six innings and struck out eight batters, securing the 8-5 win to gain in the standings.
Following their 4-1 win against the Nashua Silver Knights on Sunday, the Norwich Sea Unicorns now find themselves just a half-game game out of a playoff spot. The Westfield Starfires have slipped up coming into the break with losses to Norwich and New Britain over the weekend, allowing for the two game swing in the standings. Post break on Wednesday, Norwich will host New Britain while Westfield heads to Worcester for a doubleheader bout.
In other news from this past week, we have some impressive individual player stats from this week to share. Former Player of the Week Tyler Pettorini (Ohio State) carries a 14-game hitting streak into the break for the New Britain Bees. In his 31 games played this season, he has recorded at least one hit in all but five games! On the season, he’s batting a consistent .339 average with 18 runs scored, 12 walks, 20 RBI and six extra-base hits.
Brian Norsen (St. John Fisher) of the Westfield Starfires had a weekend to remember, tallying 10 RBI in a three game span. It began on Friday in Pittsfield with a six-RBI game where he finished just a triple shy of the cycle. He then added on in Norwich on Saturday with three more, including a double.
NESN was back to host another Futures League game on its airwaves one more time on Saturday as Nashua defeated Brockton 17-9. Johnny Knox (Nichols) is a new face on the Silver Knights squad, appearing in just seven games this season. He’s certainly made his mark with a current five game hitting streak and a pair of solo home runs in the NESN game. He joined Pittsfield’s Marco Ali (Marist), who also had two homers against Brockton on Sunday.
It’s time for some weekly awards headed into the All-Star break! The 78 Sports Player of the Week is awarded to Mike La Rocca (Southern New Hampshire) of the Brockton Rox. With a total of three multi-hit games on the week, equipped with two homers, six RBI and four walks, it’s not much of a surprise that he’s found his way to this award. Three of his walks this week came in one game, against the Lake Monsters on Wednesday. La Rocca has completely transformed his batting average, launching from .269 back on July 12, all the way to .333 heading into the All-Star break, completing that in a span of 12 days.
The ChangeUp Pitcher of the Week is awarded to Shayne Audet (New England College), who pitched a complete game in the opening game of a doubleheader for the Westfield Starfires on Tuesday, going seven strong scoreless innings, allowing just one hit with two walks and six strikeouts. After what was an inconsistent start to the season for him, Audet has really turned it around, allowing just two earned runs in his previous four starts for Westfield. The Starfires will need him to continue leading the way when he’s on the mound.
We would like to remind you to come on out to the 2022 All-Star Game in New Britain! On Tuesday night, the best players this season across the league will be on full display. The home run derby opens up the evening’s festivities at 5 p.m. with eight sluggers vying for the title. The All-Star Game will then follow that, set for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch. Gates will open at 4 p.m. to the general public and you can purchase tickets for one low price of $8!
As we hit the All-Star break, here’s how the standings are shaping up. Vermont has officially clinched a playoff spot and still holds the lead in first place by eight games. They cannot be any lower than the third seed in the playoffs, but are almost certainly going to finish higher. Everyone else remains in the playoff hunt with 11-12 games left to play in the regular season as Pittsfield, Brockton and Worcester all sit within striking distance of the playoff cut line. Norwich has won back to back games coming into the break against Westfield and Nashua to creep near fourth place, the final playoff spot that is up for grabs.
x-Vermont Lake Monsters (37-15)
Nashua Silver Knights (29-22)
New Britain Bees (29-23)
Westfield Starfires (24-27)
Norwich Sea Unicorns (24-28) (0.5 GB)
Pittsfield Suns (21-30) (3 GB)
Worcester Bravehearts (21-30) (3 GB)
Brockton Rox (21-31) (3.5 GB)
Here in Around The Diamond you’ll find some of the unique notes and information from around the league’s action. For the latest scores and statistics, visit thefuturesleague.com. If you are looking to live stream games across the league, go to fcblnetwork.com and purchase game packages custom made for you. You don’t want to miss a minute in the race to the playoffs!