NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Christopher Cepeda threw seven shutout innings, and Matt Koperniak hit a two-run double Wednesday as the North Adams SteepleCats earned a 4-1 win over the Sanford Mainers in front of more than 2,600 fans at Joe Wolfe Field.
The team’s annual pre-fireworks contest drew its usual large crowd, and Cepeda did his best to make sure they did not go home disappointed.
The rising junior at St. Thomas Aquinas College struck out five, walked two and did not allow a hit until the fourth inning as he lowered his earned run average to 4.21 and earned his second win in six starts.
“I felt great,” Cepeda said. “I just wanted to stay focused the whole time and continue that the whole game.
“The fastball was electric today. It came out of my hand good. It was working all day.”
After pitching around a couple of singles in the fourth and fifth, Cepeda ran into his biggest trouble of the night in the top of the sixth.
Back-to-back singles to start the inning were followed by a sacrifice bunt to put two men in scoring position with one out.
Cepeda then closed the door, striking out Sanford’s cleanup hitter and No. 5 man back-to-back to end the threat.
He came off the field to a raucous reception from the North Adams (9-13) bench. Ending the sixth on such a high note with a 3-0 lead at the time, that would have been the end of the night for a lot of pitchers in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
But North Adams coach Justin Sumner stuck with Cepeda and was rewarded with a 1-2-3 seventh.
“Honestly, I wanted to go back out there,” Cepeda said. “You’ve got to want to go back out there with the fans and everybody here. I was hyped to go back out there, and I was ready to go.”
Sanford (12-9) scratched out a run against the SteepleCats’ bullpen in the eighth.
The first man out of the pen, Danny Serreino, picked up a strikeout but then left the game with an apparent injury with a 3-2 count on the next man. The first pitch from Stanley Vargas was lofted to center field for a double.
An infield single put runners at the corners, and a sacrifice fly broke up the SteepleCats’ shutout bid.
Vargas went 1-⅔ to earn the save.
Offensively, North Adams got a lift early when Jeffrey Brown hit a one-out triple in the bottom of the first. Jacob Jablonski dropped a single into right field to drive Brown home and give the team a 1-0 lead.
Another one-out hit, this one from Jackson Coutts, started a two-run rally in the fourth. Joe Porricelli and Koperniak followed with back-to-back doubles. The Hoosac Valley grad drove in both Coutts and Jablonski to make it 3-0.
Koperniak singled and scored an insurance run in the sixth. He moved up on a fly ball to left, stole third and came home on a wild pitch to give the SteepleCats a four-run lead.
North Adams, which as won five of its last seven, plays its next four games at home starting Thursday night against the Valley Blue Sox. The SteepleCats are home again on Saturday night and have a double-header on Sunday.
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