By: Matt McHugh
July 9, 2017
COTUIT — For the first time since 2012, the Cotuit Kettleers (14-9) have a six-game winning streak. The Kettleers knocked off the Harwich Mariners (7-15-1) at Lowell Park on Sunday 4-2, behind yet another strong pitching performance.
Left-handed pitcher Justin Hooper (UCLA) made his fourth start of the summer on Sunday, and it was his best yet. He went six innings, allowing one run on five hits, and walked one while striking out a season-high five batters.
“I think outstanding pitching is always the first key to any club that wins with regularity,” coach Mike Roberts said. “And there’s no doubt we saw that from Hooper tonight.”
Hooper came into the season with high expectations. He pitched well for Cotuit last summer, putting up a 2.94 ERA over 18.1 innings, and had a solid sophomore season at UCLA. In 46.1 innings, he posted a 3.69 ERA and struck out 52 batters, while holding opponents to a .222 batting average.
While he struggled a bit to start this summer, with a 7.11 ERA after his first two games, he has settled down nicely. Over his last 12 innings, he has allowed just one earned run, and has walked no more than one batter in any outing this summer.
“He’s gotten better every outing,” Roberts said. Last game he finessed it and got through five. Tonight, he actually pitched with some velocity, and used a great changeup. I enjoyed watching both outings, but thought he was better tonight.”
Hooper’s fastball was sitting in the high 80s, but touched 92, and he mixed in a changeup and a wipeout slider.
“I really didn’t find my slider until the fifth inning, so I was really relying on my changeup,” Hooper said. “Throwing inside to right handers combined with changeups away is definitely a good combination.”
Hooper added: “It’s just staying comfortable, not trying to do to much. I was trying not to throw too hard, just stay within myself and hit my locations to get outs.”
The Kettleers scratched across two runs during Hooper’s six innings, one coming on a Michael Toglia (UCLA) RBI groundout and one scoring on an error by Harwich shortstop Josh Smith (LSU).
Then, in the seventh inning, Griffin Conine (Duke) launched his fifth homer of the season, marking his third straight game with a home run, extending the lead to 4-1 which proved to be enough. Conine is now second in the league in both home runs and RBIs (20).
The Kettleers followed Hooper with two innings from Austin Kitchen (Coastal Carolina) and a clean inning from Clark Cota (UNC-Wilmington), who earned his third save of the season. Kitchen has now allowed just two earned runs in his last eight innings, and with a four-strikeout day on Sunday he improved his season total to eight.
“His changeup has gotten a lot better, and he’s willing to use it left-on-left,” Roberts said. “Austin didn’t throw a lot of innings at Coastal Carolina this spring. I think just getting out there allows him to be more consistent.”
The six-game winning streak for Cotuit has put them in first place in the West division by two games, and they currently sit just one game behind Orleans for the best overall record. This is their longest streak since 2012, when they won seven straight games between July 6 and July 14.
The Kettleers continue their three-game homestand on Monday as they host the Hyannis Harbor Hawks (9-13-1). The Mariners have now lost four straight games and will host the Orleans Firebirds (15-8) on Monday.