By: Sean Bailey, Writing Intern, Providence College
August 14, 2013
COTUIT – This is what championship baseball should be all about. If game one of the Cape Cod League Championship Series is any indication, Cotuit and its fans are due for a wild and extremely entertaining series.
The first game between the Eastern Champion Orleans Firebirds, and the Western Division Cotuit Kettleers was as wild as any Western shootout. The Kettleers emerged from the fray as the victor with Bradley Zimmer (University of San Francisco) knocking in the winning runs in the eighth for a 4-2 victory.
This was the second straight game Cotuit had to wrestle away in the late innings. Last time at Lowell Park the Kettleers wrestled the Western Division from the Bourne Braves. This time the Kettleers knocked in the game winning runs in the eighth to escape with the first game of the Championship.
The fireworks flew early, as the Kettleers jumped on the Firebirds in the first inning. Zimmer led off with a infield single. Caleb Bryson (Samford) continued his power surge lifting a fly to right that just continued to carry until it landed over the fence, giving Cotuit an early 2-0 lead. From there Evan Beal (South Carolina) nursed the fragile lead as best he could. He fired four scoreless innings for the Kettleers before the Firebirds could light up the scoreboard in the fifth.
Vince Conde (Vanderbilt) hit an infield single that just kicked off Drew Jackson’s (Stanford) charging bare hand attempt. Then Geoff DeGroot (Umass-Lowell) hit a single into left that inexplicably fell underneath the Kettleer outfielder and rolled all the way to the wall, scoring Conde from first and slicing the Kettleer lead in half.
Cotuit missed a great opportunity in the fifth inning. Austin Byler (Nevada) hit a single to left to lead it off. But he was erased on the next play by an attempted bunt that the catcher was able to corrall and easily get Byler at second. Then Jake Fincher (NC State) laced a double down the left field line to move Danny Diekroeger (Stanford) to third. Rhett Wiseman (Vanderbilt) then attempted a bunt with two strikes but the bunt did not travel too far, and Diekroeger was caught in a run down, effectively eliminating the threat.
The Firebirds would even the score two innings later. Collin Slaybaugh (Washington State) knocked a single into center. Conde drew a walk, which would be the end of Beal’s day. Beal finished with six innings, allowing only one earned run, and striking out three.
“Evan gave us another really good start,” said Roberts.
Eric Karch (Pepperdine) was called in, and he allowed a sacrifice bunt to move runners to second and third. Then DeGroot drew a walk to load the bases. Another walk brought in the tying Firebirds run. But Karch settled down and avoided giving up the lead, as he induced a grounder to Jackson who fired to Nolan Clark (Concordia) at home who crow hopped and threw down to first to complete the inning ending double play.
“The double play with the bases loaded in the seventh inning was probably the key moment,” said Roberts, “If you want to look at one key defensive play, I would say it was pulling the infield in and getting the ball from shortstop to home to first, which is not an easy thing to do.”
In the bottom of the frame Diekroeger jumped on a first pitch fastball and knocked it into center for a single. Fincher followed with his second double of a day down the left field line. Diekroeger rounded third and headed for home, but Russ Kivet’s (Kansas State) throw was awaiting him and narrowly gunned him down at the plate.
Orleans nearly flew into the lead in the next half inning. Austin Davidson (Pepperdine) hit a shot into the right center gap, the ball rolling all the way to the wall before Zimmer retrieved it and fired it in to the relay man who gunned Davidson attempting to stretch the double into a triple.
The bottom of the eighth was the difference maker again for the Kettleers. Just as they had done against Bourne two days prior, the Kettleers utilized the eighth to grab a lead again. Jackson worked a one out walk. Logan Ratledge (NC State) yanked a double down the left field line, allowing Jackson to narrowly beat the throw to third on a headfirst slide. Clark then worked a walk to load the bases, setting the stage for Zimmer to be the hero. He bounced a single up the middle scoring the winning two runs.
“They brought in a left hander to face me so I figured I’d be getting a lot of curve balls,” said Zimmer of his heroic at bat, “I did my best to see the ball up in the zone. I got a good pitch to hit on the 0-2, so I stuck with it and drove it up the middle.”
Wesley Cox (Texas San Antonio) grabbed his second win of the playoffs, slamming the cage shut on the Firebirds in the ninth. He went 1 2/3 innings with three strikeouts on the five batters he faced.
“Karch, (John) Hochstatter (Stanford), and Cox all did a great job. I told them that they were going to be used as a specialty in the playoffs,” said Roberts, “I thought they handled it very well.”
The Kettleers now find themselves one win away from an unprecedented sixteenth Cape Cod Baseball League championship. They will take on the Firebirds at Orleans Eldredge Park Thursday at 7 p.m.