The Cotuit Kettleers are CCBL Champions Once Again
By Nick Solari, Writing Intern, Quinnipiac University
August 15, 2013
ORLEANS – Nothing had come easily for the Kettleers throughout the 2013 season, not once. Fifty-five players had worn Kettleers pinstripes this summer, and you rarely saw the same lineup from manager Mike Roberts two days in a row.
Things were ever-changing, making it hard for anyone to imagine Cotuit would be in a situation to capture the franchise’s 16th Cape Cod Baseball League Championship.
It was so improbable – so unthinkable – that it had to happen.
Christian Cecilio (San Francisco) turned in yet another excellent start, Wesley Cox (Texas San Antonio) got out of yet another important jam, and the Kettleers got just enough clutch hitting to take Game 2 and cap off a sweep of the Orleans Firebirds by the final score of 6-1.
Cecilio, a sinker-balling southpaw, went 6.0 scoreless giving up only four hits, no runs, and two walks. He struck out four and got 12 of his 18 outs by way of the ground ball.
“He (Cecilio) was just in the right place at the right time tonight,” Cotuit manager Mike Roberts said after the game.
Still, Cecilio thinks he wasn’t at his sharpest on the mound.
“I didn’t feel my best out there, to be honest,” Cecilio said after the game. “That’s one of those things about pitching, though. You aren’t going to have your best stuff every single time out, and I just battled and trusted my defense tonight. Fortunately everything went well.”
Roberts goes back to a conversation he had with Cecilio before the season began and thinks his starter was meant to be on the mound for a game with such magnitude.
“He was under contract, but he called and said he wasn’t sure he was going to come because he had thrown a lot of innings at school,” Roberts explained. “He was a very mature man on the phone, and he ended up calling me back a few days later to tell me that he in fact wanted to come. I asked him ‘Christian, are you sure you really want to come?’ He replied that he did. I think it was predetermined, in that conversation, that he was supposed to be out there on the mound tonight.”
For Cecilio, it was an outing he will never forget.
“This start definitely meant a lot more to me tonight,” Cecilio said. “I don’t think I have ever been this excited for a start. This is something special, and I definitely felt that.”
In order for Cecilio to get the victory, however, Wesely Cox had to get out of a big jam in the bottom half of the seventh.
Brian Miller (Vanderbilt) came in to start the seventh inning on the mound. The submarine closer from Vanderbilt struggled, giving up three hits to load the bases and only recording one out.
“Brian Miller was great this summer, but he just didn’t have it tonight, and he told me that,” Roberts said of his regular season closer. “My gut was telling me I had to get him out of the ballgame and get another arm in.”
Roberts then elected to pull Miller in favor of Wesley Cox (Texas San Antonio). Cox had been in this situation before, getting out of jam after jam for the Kettleers in the postseason. This time, he was working with only a 2-0 lead.
Cox, seemingly unfazed by the pressure, proceeded to strike out Pat Quinn (Rhode Island) on a challenge fastball, then get Ross Kivett (Kansas St) to ground out to third baseman Danny Diekroeger (Stanford).
“Every time I go out there I’m trying to give it my all,” Cox said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity I got, and I’m happy with how I was able to contribute to this great group of guys.”
The 6’4” righty went the final 2.2 innings for the Kettleers, giving up only one run in the ninth inning.
“What can you say about him (Cox)?” Roberts said. “You look at the innings and the situations I’ve put him in down the stretch here, and it’s kind of amazing.”
Diekroeger made a sliding stab down the third base line, then tagged the bag for the third out of the inning to help out his relief pitcher. He was also 2-for-5 from the plate on the night, with 2 RBI’s and a run scored.
“Danny just outworks everybody, he really flat out outworks every ballplayer out there,” Roberts said. “That showed up tonight big time.”
Catcher Nolan Clark (Concordia) was the only other Kettleer with two hits. Clark also added two big RBI’s to extend the lead to 6-0 in the top of the eighth, as well. He was Cotuit’s only catcher on the roster for a large part of the season.
“When you come here, to the Cape, this is what you strive for,” Clark said. “I’m happy I was able to do it with this group, and it feels amazing.”
The game, just like Cotuit’s season, wasn’t always as easy as the ultimate outcome.
A base running blunder hurt the Kettleers in both the first and the second inning. Bradley Zimmer (San Francisco) walked to lead things off in the top of the first, but was then picked off on a quick move from Orleans lefty Jared Miller (Vanderbilt).
In the second Diekroeger lined a leadoff single to left. After being bunted over by Jake Fincher (NC State), the Kettleers third baseman was caught between second and third base and tagged out when Mark Payton (Texas) grounded a ball back to the mound. Twice Cotuit had gotten the leadoff runner on, and twice they had come up empty.
In the top of the third, however, the visitors got on the scoreboard. Nine-hitter Clark got things started with a one-out single to the right side of the infield. Zimmer then grounded into a fielder’s choice, followed by a Caleb Bryson (Samford) double and an Austin Byler (Nevada) walk to load the bases with two outs.
Diekroeger was the next hitter for the Kettleers. The cleanup batter grounded a 1-2 pitch to the right side, and both second baseman Will Fulmer (Montevallo) and first baseman Jordan Betts (Duke) broke for the grounder. Diekroeger was able to hustle down the line and beat the pitcher to the bag, plating Zimmer to make it 1-0 Cotuit.
“With two strikes I was just trying to get the bat on the ball, and I was lucky enough to hit it in the right spot and beat him to the bag,” Diekroeger said.
Cecilio ran into some trouble in the bottom half of the third, but managed to strike out Austin Davidson (Pepperdine) with a runner on third and two down to end the inning.
The fourth and the fifth innings were rather uneventful. Each team had a base runner reach first, but get no further than that. Both left-handers, Cecilio and Miller, seemed to be settling in nicely.
In the top of the sixth the Kettleers broke Miller’s rhythm and got an insurance run, eerily similar to the way they scored their first. A one-out base hit started the rally, just as it had in the top of the third. The only difference, however, was that this time it was Fincher with the hit and not Clark. Payton then grounded into a fielder’s choice, and advanced to second with two outs on a passed ball.
Shortstop Drew Jackson (Stanford) then came to the plate. He too grounded a ball to the right side in between first and second base, then beat the pitcher to the bag for a base hit. This time, however, Miller dropped the ball running towards first, and it kicked down he right field line. Payton came in to score, extending the lead to 2-0
Both of the scoring plays came on a ground ball to the right side, and both times a Kettleer had beaten Firebirds starter Miller to the bag.
Cecilio, working with a two-run lead, got some help in the bottom of the sixth from his defense. Kivet lined a ball to left-center for a base hit to begin the inning, but Zimmer gunned him down trying to get to second base. Cecilio retired the next two batters to end his outing.
In the top of the eighth, the Kettleers added to the late lead. Byler singled to begin things in the inning, then Roberts elected to have Diekroeger bunt him over. The Kettleers third baseman laid down a bunt straight back to Orleans reliever Jeremy Rhoades (Illinois St), but Rhoades threw the ball into centerfield trying to nab the lead runner.
Rhoades got the next batter, Fincher, to pop out on the infield. A passed ball then got Byler and Diekroeger to second and third, and Orleans elected to intentionally walk Payton to load the bases.
Jackson, Game 3’s hero in the Western Division Finals, was the next batter, and Roberts surprised the Firebirds defense and had him lay down a bunt. The move worked, as Byler came in to score to make it 3-0.
Logan Ratledge was next. He grounded a ball to short and reached on a Vince Conde (Vanderbilt) error. Diekroeger scored, and Cotuit extended the late lead to 4-0.
Clark ripped a single to center to round out the eighth, scoring two more runs to break the game wide open.
6-0 Kettleers, with only six outs remaining for the Firebirds.
Cox took care of the rest, and Cotuit was back on top. A pile ensued on the field filled with emotions of elation and happiness.
It was a culmination of everything the Kettleers had been through, and all of the new faces that came in during the epic odyssey that was the 2013 season. Cotuit lost seven and added eight players since July 17th, yet still found ways to win, night in and night out.
There were only four players celebrating in the pile on the pitchers mound at Eldredge Park in Orleans that had played on the opening day roster.
‘The key element was heart and defense,” Roberts said. “I love all of our guys, every single one of them, but in the end we had the right people here for the playoffs.”