By Mike Walsh
Kettleers Media Intern
July 13, 2012
COTUIT – When the Wareham Gatemen arrived at Lowell Park Friday night and saw No. 35 readying himself for a start they were collectively thinking one thing: “Not again.”
Less than one week after a dominating performance in Wareham, Kevin Ziomek (Vanderbilt) got the start once again for the Cotuit Kettleers. On July 7th, Ziomek hurled seven shutout innings at Wareham in a 5-2 Kettleers win. On July 13th, he reprised his role in the sequel. This time he led Cotuit to a 2-1 win, their sixth in a row.
“I don’t count,” said a smiling coach Mike Roberts of his team’s recent surge. “I just say my blessings and move on to tomorrow.”
Though Roberts claimed there was no strategy involved, Ziomek took full advantage of the opportunity to be a Gatemen nightmare once again. The Vanderbilt sophomore again confounded the visitor’s lineup. He pitched 5.2 innings of shutout ball before surrendering a solo shot to Daniel Palka (Georgia Tech), the only run allowed.
“The biggest thing was my changeup, I tried to establish that early.” Said Ziomek. “They’ve got a good group of hitters, so you just have to be smart with them. Mix and match pitches to keep them guessing.”
On his way to striking out five Gatemen and earning his fourth win of the season, Ziomek dropped his ERA to 1.27, good for second in the CCBL. Following the home run, Ziomek was relieved by Brandon Bixler who promptly finished off the sixth inning.
The only other time the lead was in doubt happened in the seventh when Bixler allowed runners to first and second with just one out. Roberts exited the dugout and made the tell-tale ‘side-arm’ signal to the right field bullpen and within two minutes the unorthodox righty Ryan Connolly was jogging to the mound.
Connolly, a Coastal Carolina junior, made his CCBL leading 12th appearance a good one. He induced two groundouts to end the threat and remained in the game to deliver 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth.
“It was a question before I went out for the ninth. I got the first guy out, so coach just let me go with it,” said Connolly who struck out two in the final frame. “You’ve just got to get ahead in the count. Especially for me since I don’t overwhelm people with my fastball.”
All of the offense the Kettleers would need was provided in the first four innings. Cotuit delivered three straight hits to open the second inning, the last of which was an RBI single by Patrick Biondi (Michigan, 2-for-3) to plate James Roberts (USC, 1-for-3).
What wound up being the winning run came on a seemingly innocuous groundout by Tony Kemp (Vanderbilt, 1-for-3) in the fourth. After Mike Ford (Princeton, 2-for-3) doubled and advanced to third on Biondi’s second hit, Kemp hit a dribbler down the first baseline. Despite being thrown out at first, he earned the RBI in a fielder’s choice when Ford crossed home plate, giving the home team a 2-0 lead.
While the current winning streak has featured numerous blow-outs and shoot-outs, this was the first true pitcher’s duel Cotuit had won since maybe the season opener.
“I think the biggest change has been throwing strikes and our defense has improved,” said Roberts. “If you are going to win one-run games, those are two ingredients that have to happen.”
The work of Ziomek, Bixler and Connolly only just outperformed the show put on by Wareham’s Barrett Astin, Colby Suggs and Nicholas Rumbelow.
“I know he’s got a great arm and pitched real well for Arkansas this year,” said Ziomek about is SEC counterpart Astin. He left the advice to fellow VU Commodore Kemp, though. “I heard Tony was talking to them a little more, he is more familiar being a hitter.”
With the win, Cotuit improves to 14-10 on the season. Coupled with a Falmouth loss, the Kettleers slide into first place in the Western Division. Biondi’s two hits improve his league-leading batting average to .414 on the year. Jacob May finished 0-for-3, putting a halt to his 16-game hitting streak.
The Kettleers return to action Saturday evening with a contest at Brewster starting at 5pm.