By Ben Gainsboro, Stetson University
Photos by Josh Muir, Endicott College
Video by Jacob Cohen, Boston University
August 7th, 2019
COTUIT – Coach Mike Roberts looked like a kid on Christmas.
As the ball left the bat, Roberts turned, stared, and then began to pump his fists wildly, at the same time jumping up and down with giddiness.
It was not the kind of reaction you would expect from a near 70-year-old skipper, but, this team has taught us to expect the unexpected since day one.
“I want to say thank you to all of the players,” Roberts said postgame. “They are a special group. Whether we won or lost today, they are a special group.”
It sounds cliched, “oh, coaches always say that after they win.” In reality, you could see it in coach’s eyes, this was a man that has connected deeply with his club from early June to now early August.
The storybook ending in this game did not start off pretty, though.
In the first, Falmouth took a three run lead off of a Jackson Coutts (Rhode Island) walk, a Troy Claunch (Oregon State) single, and an Austin Langworthy (Florida) fielder’s choice. It was the second straight playoff game that Jackson Wolf (West Virginia), the starter for Cotuit, did not get through the first inning.
In his stead was Chris Holcomb (Tulane), who, like in game one of the Wareham series, was able to pick his starter up and pitch just wonderfully out of the pen.
“The bullpen, as our wonderful announcer Roy Reiss said,” Roberts began. “Wow, were they big. Eight and two-thirds of no runs. I am just thrilled with our bullpen. We came into the playoffs with rather thin pitching, in some ways. I am so thankful for them and did they step up in a big way? They stepped up.”
Holcomb ended up going three and two-thirds, allowing just three Commodore hits while striking out two. So far in seven and two-thirds playoff innings, Holcomb has allowed zero runs.
Still, Cotuit was in a hole after the first, much like they were facing in game one vs. Wareham. While the size of the hill they looked up at was halved (six vs. three), any multiple-run lead in the playoffs is always going to be tough to overcome.
Of course, this is the mighty Cotuit Kettleers, a team that has been dominant on offense since day one of the regular season. Instead of moping around, the boys got back at the Commodores in the bottom of the second inning, when Cody Pasic (Maine) got Coltyn Kessler (Kentucky) home from third with a grounder to first.
As Holcomb handed the ball off to Evan Justice (NC State) in the fifth with the score still 3-1, the bottom half of that same inning brought in another run for the Kettleers. This time it was Casey Schmitt (San Diego State) doubling to deep left, a bomb that scored Nick Gonzales (New Mexico State) from second base.
That was the last we saw of Falmouth starter Chris Gonzalez (Stetson), who allowed just two earned in five innings pitched.
After a quiet six and a quiet top half of the seventh, the “big hit” that Cotuit has consistently seen all season came off the bat of no other than the MVP, Nick Gonzales.
Facing Logan Hoffman (Northwestern State), one of Falmouth’s top relievers, Gonzales took a full count fastball deep over the center field fence, giving Cotuit the lead at 4-3 and throwing the Cotuit fanbase into a frenzy.
Still, this was just a one run game entering the eighth, and Falmouth was bringing up some dangerous guys. Kyle Nicolas (Ball State) took the ball from Evan Justice (three innings pitched, zero earned runs) and forced Troy Claunch to hit a soft bloop to center. With the ball seemingly falling into some soft grass, Donta Williams (Arizona) flew in from his deep center field spot and snagged the ball, fully extending his glove hand and absolutely stealing a hit from the Falmouth catcher. The catch earned plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” from the Cotuit faithful, with even some rumblings of “SportsCenter Top 10, you watching?”
Nicolas would get through the inning unscathed, and even got some insurance next inning when Parker Chavers (Coastal Carolina) dismantled a ball over the right field fence. As Chavers smiled and rounded second, Roberts was jumping up and down like a kid as his left fielder passed in front of him.
“I made some mistakes early in the ballgame that I really struggled with all nine innings,” Roberts said postgame. “I told Parker, he had been on time a few times, but the ball didn’t jump [off the bat], I just told him that you need to turn harder, you need to finish your swing. A two-run lead entering the top of the ninth is just so much different than a one-run lead, even if you got a tremendous pitcher like Kyle Nicolas.”
The aforementioned Nicolas came back out for the ninth and did what he was unable to do against Wareham in game one: Finish the game. Though Hayden Cantrelle (Louisiana-Lafayette) doubled and Zach DeLoach (Texas A&M) walked, Nicolas was able to bare down and force Trei Cruz (Rice) to fly out to Oraj Anu (Kentucky) to close the game.
After the win and the players rushing the field, Roberts remained humble and thankful.
“We (Bruce Murphy, GM) and I felt that there was something special about this group,” Roberts began postgame. “I just want to thank them, because I just keep it organized, they play the game. I want to thank all of my family for the support. Since my wife died, I haven’t had daily family support up here. But, the Cotuit family, which is huge, has supported me incredibly.”
Though the raw emotion of the moment overtook the long-time skipper, it was clear to all watching that he was not content with just a western division championship. This is a guy that is hungry for the CCBL title, and Cotuit now awaits the winner of Harwich and Yarmouth-Dennis.
If Harwich wins tonight, Cotuit will be playing game one at Harwich Thursday, August 8th. The first pitch in that game would be set for 6:30 P.M. at Whitehouse Field.
If Yarmouth-Dennis wins, however, a game three would have to be played on August 8th between the two clubs. The winner of that game would then host Cotuit on Friday, August 9th.