story by Steve McCarthy
August 10, 2010
WAREHAM – Despite being one of the top defensive catchers in college baseball, James McCann (Arkansas) struggled mightily with the wood bat in his hands this summer, finishing the 44-game regular season schedule with a batting average well shy of the Mendoza line at .105.
McCann has put all doubts to rest in the postseason with a .308 average and now, a game-winning two-run home run to propel the Cotuit Kettleers into their third straight Cape League Championship Series.
McCann, who rejected an invitation to try out for Team USA earlier in the summer in favor of the Cape League, drilled the first pitch he saw in the sixth inning Tuesday several rows up into the left field bleachers at Wareham’s Spillane Field to break a 1-1tie with the Gatemen which had held since the fourth. The Kettleers swept their first two best-of-three playoff series, as did Eastern Division Champion Yarmouth-Dennis, which will host the first game of the Championship Series on Wednesday at 3 p.m.
“With any player that we play against, you’ve got to respect and know that they can hit it,” Cotuit manager Mike Roberts said. “Yes, James has struggled, but he has never struggled in his work habits and his belief in himself.”
Cotuit has lost in the Championship the past two seasons and Roberts is still searching for his first ring in seven years at the helm. The Kettleers have won a league record 14 titles, with the last coming in 1999. Yarmouth-Dennis exploded for 36 runs in the two games against Orleans to advance.
“(Y-D is) the best team in the league this year. They’ve proven it,” Roberts said. “Hopefully they’ll let us in the ballpark tomorrow and we’ll do the best we can.”
Each starting pitcher Tuesday went seven strong innings and it was the long ball that got it done for both teams. Wareham’s Tyler Bream (Liberty) tied the game in the fourth with a solo shot in the same direction as McCann’s. Bream nearly did it again in the seventh, but Cotuit left fielder Michael Yastremski (Vanderbilt) snagged the tailing liner on the warning track.
Cotuit starter Bobby Shore (Oklahoma) surrendered just two hits over the seven innings and struck out five. He also walked four, but none came back to hurt him.
“I had to battle today,” Shore said. “I didn’t have the best command today but I went out and battled and the defense picked me up.”
Brooks Pinckard (Baylor) cruised through a pair of perfect innings to earn the save. Pinckard will be relied upon heavily against Y-D, as Kettleers closer Ryan Duke (Oklahoma) left the team after Monday’s game. Third baseman Levi Hyams (Georgia) went home the day before and Bulldogs teammate Zach Cone shook hands with teammates after Wednesday’s win.
Wareham southpaw Eric Pfisterer (Duke) settled in after Cotuit gained the advantage in the second inning. He left the bases loaded in the second and third innings, then allowed three hits the rest of the way. A fielding error by second baseman Adam McClain (Memphis) allowed a baserunner which came in on McCann’s homer and was an unearned run. Pfisterer walked five through the first three innings but finished with six strikeouts and no further free passes.
Cotuit had a baserunner on third with one out in the eighth but Devin Burke (Duke) struck out the top two in the Kettleers batting order to end the threat. Jordan Leyland (UC-Irvine) entered the game with a .700 postseason average but he and Cone went a combined 0-for-9 on the day.
“It’s a team game. That’s why there’s nine guys in the lineup,” McCann said. “If one guy can’t get it done one day, someone else has got to pick them up.”
McCann, Chad Wright (Kentucky) and Deven Marrero (Arizona St.) all had two hits for Cotuit, while L.J. Mazzilli led off the first inning with the only other Wareham hit.