By Matt Schneidman
August 8, 2014
COTUIT — Brendan Hendriks (San Francisco) walked to the plate in the seventh inning, representing the go-ahead run in a game that at once seemed a foregone conclusion.
After trailing 5-0 in the third with its season on the line, Cotuit gradually crawled back, and Hendriks had a chance to give the Kettleers their first lead of the day.
The lefty took the first pitch from Dylan Nelson over the “397” sign in dead center, and the home contingent erupted into a frenzy. After Cotuit’s first four pitchers struggled, the offense ignited a miraculous comeback – capped off by Hendriks’ two-run bomb – that kept Cotuit’s postseason hopes alive with a 10-7 win over Bourne at Lowell Park on Friday night.
“Lowell Park has always been a special place to play,” head coach Mike Roberts said. “I really think if we’re down 5-0 on the road, that’s pretty tough, but I think in the home park the fans helped us get back in it.”
The game started in the worst way possible for the hosts, though, as Richie Martin tattooed the second pitch of the game over the fence in left. Starter Jeff Kinley’s (Michigan State) performance was a stark contrast to his prior two starts, as the southpaw surrendered two home runs and three total runs in 2 1/3 innings.
Nick Eicholtz (Alabama) relieved Kinley, and he too digressed from his last two appearances. He issued two walks and an RBI base hit and after failing to provide a proper backup on an errant throw from right, Eicholtz was pulled after only three batters, with Bourne already ahead 5-0.
But then the Kettleers started to chip away at Braves’ starter Jimmy Herget.
After RBI singles from Logan Taylor (Texas A&M) and Ian Rice (Houston) in the third, Cotuit trailed 5-2. Then a Drew Jackson (Stanford) RBI infield single cut the Bourne lead to two in the fourth.
The once-lifeless home crowd had been rejuvenated with a glimmer of hope as silence had turned into encouraging chants of “have a hit.”
Just as the hosts seemed to be within striking distance, though, Bourne stretched the game back open. Travis Duke (Texas) allowed three-straight hits and hit a batter to start the fifth, and the visitors scored two runs in the inning to extend their cushion back to four at 7-3.
With the hosts backed up against the wall for the second time and the season in danger more than before, the team’s two best hitters responded.
Taylor led off the fifth with his team-leading sixth home run of the year and Jackson Glines (Michigan) followed that up with a solo shot of his own to the same exact spot to cut the lead to 7-5.
“We got some big hits,” Hendriks said. “LT had a big home run and Glines followed up with another big home run and we just started rolling.”
After a Hendriks RBI double, the Kettleers seemed to have all the momentum as the Lowell Park faithful were the loudest of the season, getting behind each batter on each pitch with its team only trailing by one.
Jackson McClelland (Pepperdine) and Austin Sexton (Mississippi State) pitched 1-2-3 frames in the sixth and seventh, and the bats were finally given a chance to take a lead after the pitching shut down the Braves’ offense.
“I thought our pitching got better and better as the game went on,” Roberts said. “That gave us a chance to win.”
With John Jennings (UMass) standing on first in the seventh after Martin botched a grounder to shortstop, Hendriks took the first pitch of the at-bat to straight-away center.
“It was a first-pitch fastball,” Hendriks said. “I was just trying to hit something in the gap and luckily I put it up in the air, and it managed to get out of the ballpark.”
As he sprinted around the bases, almost catching Jennings, the wooden bleachers at Lowell Park seemed to shake as the eruptions from the fans were deafening.
It was Hendriks’ third game-winning hit this year and one that ultimately kept the hosts holding onto their last breath.
“That ball Hendriks hit might’ve been one of the furthest ones I’ve ever seen in my life in person,” Jordan Ebert said. “You’ve got to have some luck go your way and today, we’re doing some pretty special things with the bat.”
Aggressive baserunning from Ebert (Auburn) and a wild pitch from former Kettleer Mason Klotz gave Cotuit two insurance runs, but Cape League reliever of the year Adam Whitt (Nevada) didn’t need them.
He shut down Bourne in the final two innings and sent the series to a decisive Game 3 at Doran Park on Saturday.
“Any time you can come back and win a ballgame like that in that fashion, it’s a big spark for the club,” Ebert said. “A game like this can turn around a whole postseason.”
Cotuit lives to fight another day, but with a depleted bullpen, pitching will be the question on Saturday. Logan James (Stanford) will throw for the Kettleers, as Roberts sends out the third lefty to start off the series .
Falling behind early has made things much harder for Cotuit, but if James is able to stabilize the game early and the bats are able to pound out double-digit hit totals again, Cotuit may be looking at a second-straight appearance in the Western Division finals.
And according to today’s hero, performances like Friday’s are good enough to take Cotuit even further.
Said Hendriks: “If we keep playing like this, I don’t think anybody is going to stop us.”