|Koperniak Doubles Twice, Scores Winning Run in SteepleCats' Comeback|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires.com Sports|
10:49PM / Thursday, July 04, 2019
|Tyler Hays overcame a rough start to throw six strong innings for North Adams.|
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Matt Koperniak doubled and scored the winning run in the bottom of the seventh, and the North Adams SteepleCats overcame a 4-0 deficit for a 5-4 win over Vermont on the Fourth of July at Joe Wolfe Field.
On the night when the ‘Cats draw their biggest crowd each year, they delighted the hometown faithful with one of their biggest wins of this season, improving to 13-7, winning for the third time in four games and holding onto their lead in the Northern Division of the New England Collegiate Baseball League by a half-game over Keene.
"Playing in front of the big crowd is definitely a step up," said Koperniak, a graduate of Hoosac Valley High School and two-time SteepleCat who attends Trinity College. "I mean, you can see the fans coming in, and that's great.
"It's a great atmosphere, and we try to use that, try to use that energy. It's really just a blast to play in front of these guys. It's great for the town."
Koperniak went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, raising his batting average to a team-leading .442.
The other big story: North Adams' pitching, specifically starter Tyler Hays.
The Bowling Green State University product overcame a rough first inning in which Vermont (12-9) collected five hits and three runs to go on top before the ‘Cats came to bat.
Hays gave up just three hits the rest of the way and finished with 10 strikeouts in six innings of work.
"I just had to take a deep breath once I got in the dugout," Hays said. "I knew I can figure stuff out, just relax and I'll get back on track. And I did that from the second inning on."
A pair of balls that got to the backstop allowed the Mountaineers to push across their fourth run in the third inning before the SteepleCats' bats showed signs of life.
Tanner Thomas led off with a single to left and stole second base. With one out, he went to third on a single by Brian Picone, and one batter later he scored on an RBI groundout by Scout Knotts to get North Adams on the scoreboard.
In the fifth, the ‘Cats inched closer. Knotts led off with a walk and moved up when Paul Komistek was hit by a pitch. Koperniak grounded into a fielder's choice, but a throwing error on Vermont's attempt at a double play allowed Knotts to score and make it 4-2.
North Adams tied it in the sixth.
Andrew Pedone led off with a walk, and Sam Punzi dropped a single into right ahead of a two-run double by Picone to make it 4-4.
The winning rally one inning later started with a one-out double to left by Koperniak. Josh Loeffler immediately followed by ripping one down the right-field line to drive in the winning run.
By that time, Hays had left the game and Jacob Abbott was in the middle of his two innings of relief. He allowed just one hit and struck out four to preserve the lead.
The job preserving that lead fell to Madison Jeffrey.
The flame-thrower from the West Virginia University continued his perfect summer with a scoreless ninth, rebounding from a leadoff walk to strikeout two, including the final out of the game.
Jeffrey kept his earned run average at 0.00 after working his 10th scoreless inning of the summer.
He got a save. Abbott got a win.
Hays got a game-high in hugs after making his final appearance in a SteepleCats uniform.
He is heading home on Sunday after hitting the inning limit that his BGSU coaches set for him this summer. Fortunately for Hays, his teammates generated enough late offense to make his final night in the Steeple City a happy one for everyone.
"I've enjoyed all the time I've had with these guys so far," Hays said. "It's been amazing.
"It's a legit league and a great experience. I got to face great competition and get so much better. I learned a lot from these guys. It's just huge. It's awesome."
The rest of the SteepleCats will look for a third win on this three-game homestand Friday at 6:30 when Ocean State visits Joe Wolfe Field.