By Will Kraus, Bates College
Photos by Josh Muir, Endicott College
Video by Jacob Cohen, Boston University
July 1, 2019
“Those guys did that for her.” Coach Mike Roberts said postgame as he choked back tears at Lowell Park on Monday night.
Roberts was referring to his ball club, crediting them for winning the game for his late wife, Nancy, on her birthday.
“My wife died three and a half years ago and today’s her birthday. We were married 45 years but today was her birthday.” Roberts said through water-filled eyes following the 9-8 victory.
It was one of those moments in which baseball or any sport shows how it can transcend itself into something that means much, much more than just a game. It was one of those special moments when baseball brings the power of human relationships to the surface, showing that the game goes far beyond home run distance or fastball velocity.
The Player of the Game, Oraj Anu (Kentucky), has a home run celebration that proves this as well.
Anu hit the game winning run with a homer in the bottom of the eighth to put Cotuit up 9-8, but his home run ritual also shows how baseball can go beyond baseball.
“I just hit my chest twice and I put my hands together to recognize them because I wouldn’t be here without them” Anu said of “the most important people in my life, my mom and my aunt.”
Anu’s big swing came just after Cotuit had surrendered an 8-3 lead in the top half of the inning as the Harbor Hawks rallied to tie the game.
Hyannis’ Tyler Drabick (Kent State) came into the game in the eighth for his debut, and his first task was Oraj Anu.
The at bat looked very much in Drabick’s favor after the first two pitches as Drabick got Anu to swing and miss on two off speed pitches to put Anu in an 0-2 count.
“Before that inning Coach Roberts just told us to be aggressive at the plate. He said just take good swings out there and those two swings helped me adjust to the off speed pitch.”
After fouling off a fastball Anu dug in from the left side of the batter’s box and readied himself for the fourth pitch of the at bat.
Drabick looked for the catcher’s signal, set from the stretch and delivered an 83 mile per hour sinking pitch that didn’t sink for long.
Anu was all over the off speed pitch this time, hammering the ball 386 feet deep into Lowell Park’s woods in right field.
The bench erupted as Anu circled the bases. His college teammate, the currently injured Coltyn Kessler (Kentucky), even stood on the edge of the dugout with his arms raised in the air in excitement for Anu’s laser shot.
“It feels great,” Anu commented postgame. “Especially since I haven’t gotten a hit in a while, it’s good to hit a home run that actually means something.”
As was apparent from his coach’s emotional response to the victory, Anu’s home run carried great significance.
Early in the game it looked like Cotuit’s offense might struggle all evening for the second consecutive game as Hyannis’s starter Nick Mondak (St. Johns) retired the first nine Kettleers he faced.
But strong eight and nine pitch walks by Nick Gonzales (New Mexico State) and Donta Williams (Arizona) in the bottom of the fourth got Mondak the hook despite him not allowing a hit.
That set the stage for reliever Joseph Quintal (Fordham) who allowed Mason McWhorter (Georgia Southern) to hit Gonzales home to tie the game at one on a single he pulled to right.
The next batter, Parker Chavers (Coastal Carolina), had the first homer of Cotuit’s three on a 3-1 count as he smacked one out of the park down the right field line to give Cotuit a 4-1 advantage.
The inning was an excellent display of a multifaceted offensive approach the Kettleers showed in this game as they manufactured runs tactfully and displayed their ability to score runs with a single swing of the bat.
Roberts spoke to this as well.
“It does help to be able to get yourself out front or be able to get back in the game with one swing and I’m really pleased that we have a few guys that have a little juice in their bat. But I’m also pleased with somebody like Donta Williams today who got us going early with a great at bat and a walk before Parker hit the home run and that will always be critical too so you gotta have a balance and I think we have a really good balance right now.”
Meanwhile, Cotuit got a third outstanding starting performance in a row as Zachary McCambley threw five innings allowing just one run on five hits.
Cotuit appeared to be fully in control after seven, especially following Casey Schmitt’s (San Diego State) two run blast to the right of Cotuit’s scoreboard in left-center that put the Kettleers in front 8-3.
Then came the nerve-racking top of the eighth in which Hyannis nearly took the lead and tied the game.
Had it not been for solid defensive plays such as a great diving stop by Gonzales at second base or a key block to keep a run from scoring by Cody Pasic (Maine) the Kettleers very well could have found themselves trailing heading into the bottom half of the inning.
“They didn’t panic.” Roberts said. “Nobody panicked, anybody, they just kept playing the game and let it play out and were extremely mature and I’m just really proud of them.”
Roberts was once again very appreciative of the effort many Cotuit players put in before the game.
“The guys, a lot of them came early and practiced. Parker’s [Chavers] home run swing was exactly what we practiced today, same thing with Casey [Schmitt]. Casey was very humble today and worked on what I asked him to and my son(former major leaguer Brian Roberts) was here the last couple days and Brian was kind of talking to them as they came out of the cage. I don’t even know what [Brian] told them but it was really good.” the visibly emotional skipper commented.
The win was only worth two points in the standings. But with the palpable emotion the Kettleers’ coach showed and the excitement of the team playing for him it was clearly worth a whole lot more.
The Kettleers (8-7-2) take on the Bourne Braves (6-9) at Lowell Park for a 5 PM start on Tuesday.