Produced by Cierra Jordan
June 24, 2017
COTUIT – Kettleers fans had seen this situation before. Down 1-0, with runners on the corners, two outs and an opportunity to score a run. Many times this season, the scenario has ended in failure.
Griffin Conine (Duke) dug into the lefty batter’s box. Down 1-2 in the count, Conine took a practice swing and rested the bat behind his head.
Y-D starter John Rooney (Hofstra) fired his fourth slider of the at-bat. The first three worked. The fourth, not so much. Conine timed the pitch perfectly, pulling the hanging breaking ball over the right field fence to put Cotuit on top 3-1. And the Kettleers never looked back.
“You don’t see, in the Cape League, a lot of three-run home runs,” Cotuit manager Mike Roberts said. “That was the swing that swung the ball game in a different direction.”
After falling 5-3 to the Red Sox (6-2-1) on Thursday, Cotuit (6-4) returned the favor in front of a home crowd at Lowell Park, knocking off the Cape’s number one team 9-2. This marks the team’s second-consecutive win.
Saturday’s contest opened as a pitching duel between Rooney and Cotuit starter Noah Davis (UCSB). Through four innings the two teams combined for just three hits and neither fostered a run. The stalemate broke in the top of the fifth inning when Y-D loaded the bases with no outs. Roberts visited the mound after the two leadoff singles, but trusted Davis to get out of trouble. After the walk, Roberts yanked the starter and called upon Jayce Vancena (Michigan) to escape the jam, as he’s done for the team several times this season.
Vancena walked his first batter, charging a run to Davis, but followed up the walk with a 1-2-3 double play and a popup to end the inning and minimize damage.
Cotuit answered the following inning with Conine’s three-run bomb. The Duke sophomore trotted around the bases, hopping into home plate and bumping helmets with Brett Kinneman (North Carolina State) and Gian Martellini (Boston College), who Conine drove in from first and third.
“I was feeling it going around second,” Conine said. “The fans were going crazy.”
The home run was contagious for the Kettleers’ offense, as the team belted hit after hit in the following two innings. Red Sox manager Scott Pickler decided to keep Rooney in the game following the Conine home run. This meant that in the sixth inning, the starting lefty would have to pitch against the Cotuit lineup for the third time, with each batter already studying his throws from each appearance.
John Cresto (Santa Clara) continued lighting up the scorecard with a lead-off double in the sixth, and following that hit there was nothing more Rooney could do against Cotuit. The first three batters reached base before Rooney was pulled. But those hitters would come back to bite him, with each one scoring off reliever Tanner Graham (UAB), and all runs being charged to Rooney.
That inning put Cotuit on top 8-1 before each side would add one more run the eighth, finishing at 9-2.
Roberts uses an interesting tactic in his lineup, where instead of putting the fastest guys to lead-off, he puts the biggest bats, hence Conine leading off while powering the strongest bat on the team. But the talent behind him has shown incredible life.
The typical first five is Conine, Greyson Jenista (Wichita State), Zack Kone (Duke), Cresto and Kinneman. They have combined for a .367 average with five home runs, 36 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.
“If someone’s doing well,” Cresto said, “you do well too. It’s constantly feeding off one another.”
In the last two games, the entire team is feeding off one another, tallying 21 runs and improving their record to 6-4.
The next challenge comes on the road in a doubleheader on Sunday, June 25, against the Orleans Firebirds (5-6). The games begin at 3:00 p.m.