The Utica Blue Sox faced a challenge Friday evening unlike any so far this season.
The west division leading Blue Sox (18-5) welcomed the east division leading Amsterdam Mohawks (23-4) into Murnane Field for a doubleheader.
The Mohawks returned to Amsterdam after winning both games and asserting their position as the PGCBL’s top team.
Here are some takeaways:
Missed opportunities and miscues doom the ‘Sox
In the first game of the night, Utica tallied more hits than the Mohawks, but primarily still fell 3-0 due to the 10 runners left on base.
“We couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it,” Blue Sox head coach Doug Delett said. “We also ran into some bad luck with some line drives.”
A devastating blow to the Blue Sox occurred in the top of the fifth, when two outfielders – Brandyn Durand and Easton Brenner – suffered injuries on the same play. Delett said both are done for the season.
“That took the wind out of our sails because those kids are here to work, and they’ve worked really hard up to that point,” he said.
In game two, Utica controlled an early lead through three. However, starting in the fifth, Amsterdam clawed its way back. Florida State freshman Cade Bush blasted a home run.
A sacrifice fly courtesy of Zach Gardiner gave the ‘Hawks the edge, and they ultimately prevailed 3-1 after back-to-back errors added another run in the seventh.
“It’s baseball,” Delett said. “They are a good team, but so are we. We were in both games.”
Delett not concerned
Prior to Utica’s loss to Watertown Thursday night, the Blue Sox had maintained a league-record 14-game winning streak.
Now, after the sweep to Amsterdam, they’ve lost three straight.
Delett speculates Thursday night’s defeat may have resulted from looking ahead to Friday night.
“These guys can now see that they can play with those guys,” he said.
In fact, Delett said hosting teams like Amsterdam is good practice for the next step.
“It looks like it is going to be us and them,” he said. “Amsterdam is good every year. We’ve been beating teams we are better than, but they got guys from Florida State and Mississippi State. Top power five programs.”
Utica holds championship expectations
Despite the stiff competition, the goals for the Blue Sox remain high after winning two consecutive division titles. Delett said the structure of the playoffs, though, can hurt the team.
“The first two rounds are one game playoffs, and the championship round is best two-out of three, so anything can happen,” he said. “I expect us to be there, but a lot can change.”
Delett said, for the squad to continue success, it needs to improve the quality of its at-bats.
“We started slow with that, but it has gotten better, so we need to continue to improve.”
The group’s pitching, led by University of St. Thomas produce Evan Esch, surprised Delett this season.
“We didn’t know how our pitching was going to be, but it far exceeded what we thought we were going to have,” he said.
Four of the Blue Sox’s next five games are away from Utica, but the team will battle rival Mohawk Valley Sunday at 5 p.m.
Utica will trek to Amsterdam later in the month on July 28.
Noah Ram is a sports reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Noah Ram at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Observer-Dispatch: Utica Blue Sox lose third in a row Friday night to Amsterdam