By: Nick Solari, Writing Intern, Quinnipiac University
August 12, 2013
COTUIT – Drew Jackson (Stanford) stepped up to the plate on Monday night at Lowell Park with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. There were runners on first and second, and the game was tied at 3.
The 6’2” right-handed hitting shortstop is one of the younger players on the Kettleers roster and has endured his share of ups and downs on the Cape this summer. After going 0-10 in his last three games during the postseason, Jackson was dropped from third to seventh in the order prior to the game.
He had everything working against him, yet fate put him in the midst of the most important at-bat of the season for Cotuit.
Jackson came through for the Kettleers, grounding a single from Jack English (Florida Gulf Coast) up the middle to score Danny Diekroeger (Stanford) to put Cotuit up 4-3 in the eighth inning. It was the biggest hit of Jackson’s summer, and the biggest hit the Kettleers had gotten all season.
“Throughout the playoffs I have been hitting the ball hard, just right at people,” Jackson said. “I continued to work hard, and I got a slider up and was able to drive it up the middle. Fortunately everything (in the series) worked out for the best.”
Brian Miller (Vanderbilt) shut Bourne down in the top of the ninth inning, and just like that the Kettleers were headed to the Cape Cod Baseball League Championship for the first time since 2010.
“It took a lot of big plays for Drew to get into that position to get the big hit, and I’m happy for him,” head coach Mike Roberts said after the game. “I knew his brother well from playing here in Cotuit, and his family as well. They are all competitive, and it doesn’t surprise me that Drew came through in a big way for us.”
Bourne got on the board first to make it 1-0 in the top of the second inning. Starting pitcher Ben Smith (Coastal Carolina) walked cleanup hitter Jeff Gardner (Louisville) to begin the inning. The next batter was the DH Matt Gonzalez (Georgia Tech), who lifted a fly ball into right field towards the line. Jake Fincher (NC State) couldn’t come up with the ball in the outfield, and it fell for a base hit putting runners on first and third. Vinny Siena (UConn) then grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, but the run scored.
In the bottom of the second the Kettleers threatened to respond, but couldn’t force a run home. Fincher took a Kyle Kubat (Nebraska Lincoln) pitch to right-center for a double to leadoff the inning. Then Rhett Wiseman (Vanderbilt) lay down a sacrifice bunt to put Fincher on third with only one out.
Jackson was next, and he lined a ball sharply back towards the mound. Kubat made an incredible stab at the screaming liner, however, and knocked it down with his glove. Though the ball scooted a few feet from him on the ricochet and Jackson was able to reach base, Fincher was unable to score from third.
Second baseman Logan Ratledge (NC State) then stepped to the plate. Ratledge was unable to get a bunt down on the first two pitches, and ultimately grounded into a 6-4-3 double play after a 10-pitch at-bat. Kubat’s ability to knock Jackson’s liner down proved to be a key play, as the Braves were able to keep the 1-0 lead intact.
In the top of the third the Braves were able to get a runner to third base with one out, but Smith struck out Tim Caputo (Rhode Island) swinging and got Clinton Freeman (East Tennessee) to ground out to first to get out of the inning unharmed.
In the bottom half, Cotuit grabbed a run back to tie it at 1. Nolan Clark (Concordia) singled between the third baseman and shortstop to begin the inning. Then Bradley Zimmer (San Francisco) grounded to second base for a fielder’s choice. Caleb Bryson (Samford) lined a single over Bourne second baseman Trent Gilbert’s (Arizona) head to put runners on first and second with one out.
Three-hitter Austin Byler (Nevada) then proceeded to strike out swinging on a long 12-pitch at-bat for out number two, but Diekroeger singled to drive in Zimmer and knot the game 1-1.
Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the fourth, both Smith and Kubat looked to be getting confortable on the mound. In the top half of the fifth, however, Smith’s outing ended when Tyler Kuresa (Cal Santa Barbara) lined a one-out ball off of his leg for a single. Wesley Cox (Texas San Antonio) came in to relieve the injured Smith and retired two straight batters to get out of the inning.
Smith’s final stat line was 4.1 innings pitched, three hits, one run, two walks, and five strikeouts. It was his fifth straight outing allowing one earned run or less.
“(Ben) Smith pitched very well for us again tonight,” Roberts said after the game. “Wesley was able to come in and pitch well too. It was a solid effort.”
In the top of the sixth, Cox didn’t have the same success he had had only an inning prior. Caputo and Freeman both lined singles into the outfield to begin the inning. Then they were sacrificed over to second and third by Gardner to set things up for Gonzalez.
Gonzalez lined a 1-2 hanging curveball from Cox into left-center, driving in two runs and giving Bourne the 3-1 advantage.
“It was really the only mistake he (Cox) made on the night,” Roberts said.
Byler led off the bottom of the sixth for the Kettleers by blooping a ball into left field for a hit and advanced to second base when Gardner went into a slide trying to catch the ball.
The next two Kettleers went down quietly, but regular season MVP Rhett Wiseman came up to the plate with two outs. Just as he had done all season, Wiseman answered the call. He lined a 1-0 fastball into right field for a single, scoring Byler to cut the deficit to one.
On the very next pitch Jackson ripped a double into right-center, and the speedy Wiseman scored from first base. Just like that – in a matter of moments – the Kettleers had rallied with two outs to tie the game.
Jackson was 3-for-4 on the night, with two RBI’s.
Cox then gave up a leadoff single to Bourne second baseman Trent Gilbert (Arizona), and Roberts elected to pull him in favor of an early entrance for submarine closer Brian Miller (Vanderbilt).
Miller answered the call. The 6’4” righty got Kuresa to ground out to second base, then struck out two hitters to get of the inning unscathed. With two outs in the inning, Roberts elected to intentionally walk Bourne leadoff hitter Mark Laird (Louisiana St). The move paid off as Miller and the Kettleers managed to keep the game tied.
In the top half of the next inning, Bourne brought the heart of their order to the plate. Freeman singled to begin the inning, then Gardner, the cleanup hitter, chopped a ball that bounced over Byler’s head at first base. The ball skipped into the outfield for a double, putting runners on second and third with nobody out in a tie game.
Again, Cotuit’s bullpen ace battled back. Miller proceeded to strike out Gonzalez and Siena swinging, then got Gilbert to fly out to left field to end the inning. Incredibly, Miller stranded two runners yet again to keep the game tied at 3-3.
“I just wanted to trust my defense and force contact,” Miller said. “I was just relaxed and was able to make some pitches, fortunately.”
Fortunately for Miller, his coach had confidence in his reliever the whole time.
“Brian (Miller) is a veteran,” Roberts said after the game. “He’s been in those situations at Vanderbilt, and I felt he was the right person for this game at this point in the season. We were at the point where we would either win or lose that particular game with Brian on the mound.”
English, the Bourne reliever, then struck out Byler to begin the bottom of the eighth, but Diekroeger doubled to right-center and Fincher walked to put runners on first and second with one out.
Wiseman was next, but English was able to get him swinging for a big second out. It was up to the Kettleers shortstop from Stanford who had already driven in a run earlier in the game.
Jackson’s big hit put the Kettleers up 4-3.
English was pulled after 1.2 innings on the hill and was replaced by Will Cox (Mississippi St). Cox was able to get Ratledge to fly out to left, but the damage was done. The Kettleers stood within three outs of a Cape Cod Baseball League Championship appearance.
Kuresa led off the inning, flying out to Zimmer in center field. Miller then got help from second baseman Logan Ratledge at second base, as the he ranged deep into the hole and made a perfect throw to first for out number two. The Kettleers were one out away.
Laird then singled to right field, but Miller got Caputo to ground out back to the mound to end the game. The Kettleers had done it.
“For me, the season is for the players,” Roberts said after advancing to the CCBL Championship. “My job is to teach, and if they want to play that hard then they deserve to be in this spot. This time of year, with a lot of guys going to school soon, you have to have a team with guys who are here because they truly want to play and to win. I am happy that I have been blessed with a group that really has a passion and wants to play.”
“It (the win) feels great,” Miller said. “It’s good for the guys and for these fans. We are all really happy about it.”
The Kettleers will take on the Orleans Firebirds in the championship series starting tomorrow night at Lowell Park. First pitch is at 4 p.m.
“We feel really good, and we have a lot of momentum,” Jackson said. “The guys are feeling really good about the way we are playing, and I think we can do it.”