WATERTOWN — After a rough start to the week, things got a whole lot tougher for the Watertown Rapids on Thursday night.
With less than a week remaining in the regular season, the Rapids missed a prime opportunity to make up some ground in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League playoff chase, as their rally attempts were turned back in a 13-11 loss to last-place Newark at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“We always have a little fight left in us, but it seems like we just keep putting ourselves into a bigger hole to take us out of it,” Watertown coach Mike Wood said. “And we did that again tonight.”
Trailing by five runs through four innings, Watertown responded to tie the game at 6-6 with three runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth.
But the Pilots, who entered on a seven-game losing streak, broke out by scoring seven runs in the top of the seventh inning to take command.
“That’s baseball, that stuff happens in the game,” Watertown designated hitter Tony Socci said. “We’ve just got to roll with the punches when that stuff happens and control what we can control.”
The fifth-place Rapids (15-24) lost ground in the playoff race in the West Division.
Watertown now trails fourth-place Elmira by 1 1/2 games in the division and now finds itself two games back of Adirondack, which swept a doubleheader at Geneva on Thursday. The two four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs.
“It’s tough, we played tough all day and played hard as a team,” Rapids center fielder Derek Kasperzyk said. “Yeah, this one hurts a little bit, especially for making a playoff push and things like that.”
Starting pitcher Sachin Nambiar was hit hard in taking the loss for Watertown, which was dealt its third straight setback after it defeated Adirondack last Saturday at the Fairgrounds, with Nambiar getting the win on that day.
“Especially on first responders night in front of a pretty big crowd, we wanted to get a win,” said Socci, who went 3-for-5 and scored two runs. “That’s just the game, we put up a real good fight, I thought we swung the bats real well tonight — that’s all you can ask for, really.”
David Bermudez went 3-for-6 for Newark (14-29), including a three-run home run to left field in the second inning, and Bermudez and Tate Ballestero each hit RBI singles in the fourth to stake their team to a 6-1 lead.
In the fifth, after Drake Smith and Emil Matti walked, Socci delivered a three-run home run of his own to left to pull the Rapids within 6-4. They tied the game in the sixth on an RBI single to center by Kasperzyk and Drake Smith’s RBI groundout.
But Newark fought back with its seven-run surge in the seventh by batting around in the inning, sparked by two-run singles from Kameron Reynolds that chased Nambiar, and Bayley Jamanis, and an RBI single by Bermudez.
The Rapids also committed three errors, as of the 10 runs allowed by Nambiar on 12 hits in six-plus innings, five were unearned.
“There was a lot offense, but there was kind of one too many mistakes by us,” Wood said.
Trailing by six runs again, Watertown chipped away by scoring a run in both the seventh and eighth and three more in the ninth, capped by an RBI single from Matti to pull within 13-11. The Rapids had the potential tying run at the plate with two outs in the inning, but James Krick flew out to center.
“It’s definitely a tough start to the week, but we’ll bounce back, we’ll be all right,” Kasperzyk said. “If we keep playing hard and we’ve shown some resiliency as a team.”
Both teams totaled 14 hits as Matti, Krick and Brandon Taylor each singled twice and Smith doubled and singled. If there’s any consolation for the Rapids, they’ll get a chance to play the teams they’re chasing in the division. They’ll play at Elmira at 7:05 tonight before hosting Adirondack at 7:15 p.m. Saturday.
“We have a big weekend ahead of us,” Wood said. “But this is one we needed to keep pace and now we’ve got to fight extra hard to get some wins.”
The Rapids have seven games left over the next six days, including doubleheaders at Mohawk Valley on Sunday and at Geneva on Wednesday, to wrap up the regular season.
“These are the deciding games if you want to make the playoffs,” Wood said. “We haven’t put ourselves in the best position, but if we get a couple wins then we’ll kind of be right back in the thick of things.”
n NOTES: Lowville native and St. Lawrence University pitcher Kalani Zehr relieved Nambiar (2-3) in the seventh, allowing three runs on two hits in 1 2/3 innings. ... The Rapids stole eight bases on the night, as Matti swiped three and Kasperzyk and Smith totaled two each. Kasperzyk stands second in the league in stolen bases (23). ... Socci leads Watertown in home runs (six). ... Watertown took the season series with Newark, 5-3. ... Thursday’s crowd of 335 was the second highest draw of the season. ... A fireworks display will follow Saturday’s game. The Rapids’ regular-season home finale is at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday against division-leading Utica.