By Will Kraus, Bates College
Video by Jacob Cohen, Boston University
Photos by Josh Muir, Endicott College
August 8, 2019
Game one of the Cape Cod Baseball League Championship series had just reached the five hour mark in the top of the fifteenth inning when Nick Gonzales (New Mexico State) stepped to the plate with runners on the corners and two outs on Thursday night at Harwich.
You could just taste the tension in the championship atmosphere between the foul lines, the dugouts, and the sidelines filled with fans as the Cape League MVP came to the plate with the game tied 6-6.
Gonzales was facing off against All-Star Harwich reliever and southpaw Will Heflin (Tennessee) who had been nearly unhittable during the regular season with just a 0.75 ERA in 24 innings pitched.
In Gonzales’ first at bat of the game against Heflin Gonzales did something very rare for him, making soft contact that allowed Heflin to toss it to first for the out.
Gonzales’ second at bat against Heflin didn’t get off to a great start either. Cotuit’s All-Star second baseman swung and missed at the first two pitches to fall behind 0-2.
In that situation, trailing in the count with two outs, in a fifteen inning marathon, when your
team hasn’t scored in six innings, in game one of the championship some might be phased. Nick Gonzales wasn’t.
Gonzales barreled the ball into center field, allowing Adam Oviedo (Oral Roberts) to score from third as the Cotuit fans yelled in relief and most of the Kettleers dugout stormed onto the field in celebration. Cotuit led 7-6.
“That’s the reason he’s hitting first in the lineup.” Coach Roberts said of Gonzales postgame. “Again, he puts the barrel of the bat on the ball and he finds holes often because of that. He’s been an outstanding player for us. He came up clutch again as he did the other night.”
While Gonzales had the highlight hit at the end, the fifteen inning marathon was a baseball battle you can only marvel at as two teams fought tooth and nail all night long. But in the end the Kettleers were victorious and just one win away from a record extending seventeenth Cape League title.
You couldn’t have asked for a better start of the Championship series for the Kettleers in the top of the first. In just the third at bat of the game with runners on first and third Oraj Anu (Kentucky) cranked a homer out of the park to right, the ball exiting his bat at 106 miles per hour to put Cotuit in front 3-0.
After just three batters the Kettleers had already matched their season total of runs scored at Whitehouse Field as in two previous regular season games Cotuit scored just three times.
Harrison Cohen (George Washington) got his first start for the Kettleers and started off hot with a 1-2-3 first.
But the Mariners responded in the bottom of the second with a two-run double to right center by Patrick Winkel (Connecticut).
The score remained 3-2 until the top of the fourth when Gonzales hit a ball in the gap
between third and short that scored Oviedo from third.
But again the Mariners had an answer. In the bottom half of the inning Harwich once again cut Cotuit’s advantage to just one run as Winkel hit a towering home run to dead centerfield, making the score 4-3.
Harwich would knot the game at 4-4 when Chris Galland (Boston College) singled to left to plate Hal Hughes (Louisiana State) from second.
What would have been a knock-out punch for many teams came in the eighth as Winkel continued his hot night with another homer to centerfield. This time it was a two-run shot, giving the Mariners their first lead of the night, 6-4.
It was all set up perfectly for Harwich then. They had their closer, Joe Boyle (Notre Dame), set to come in and throw 100 mile per hour seeds to bring game one home.
But the Kettleers have shown they don’t quit over and over throughout the 49 games they had suited up for prior to game one of the championship.
An Anu walk followed by a laser that deflected off of Boyle’s glove into center by Casey Schmitt (San Diego State) brought Mason McWhorter (Georgia Southern) up to bat for the first time in the ballgame.
McWhorter rose to the task against the most electric fastball on the Cape, lining an opposite field hit into left that brought Anu home and reduced the Mariners’ edge 6-5.
Cotuit was down to their final out with Schmitt on second and McWhorter on first as Oviedo came to bat.
Oviedo kept the Kettleers kicking as he pulled a ball down the third base line that bounced over the leaping third baseman Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame) into left field, giving Schmitt the time to tie the game 6-6.
It got nerve-racking in the bottom of the ninth. Harwich was threatening a walk-off win with runners on second and first to go along with just one out.
Right-handed reliever Richard Brereton (Emory) entered the game in the pressure packed situation. He delivered.
Brereton got Joey Wiemer Jr. (Cincinnati) to ground into a 6-4-3 double play that sent the
game to extras.
“I was just trying to execute my pitches.” Brereton said of the double play after the game. “I had a lot of trust in Cody Pasic (Maine), my catcher, and we’re always on the same page so I just try to execute my pitches.”
The Mariners had their share of opportunities in extras, but Brereton just wouldn’t crack.
Despite runners on third in the bottom of the eleventh and fourteenth innings, Brereton was able to keep Cotuit alive until the Kettleers were able to take the lead in the fifteenth.
“I asked [Brereton] about three different innings if he wanted to come out.” Roberts recalled. “He just said ‘No, sir. No, sir.’”
Roberts was extremely complimentative of Brereton following his incredible six scoreless innings that all came with the pressure of a potential Harwich walk-off.
“He is one of the most fundamentally sound young men that I have ever coached.” Roberts said of Brereton. “Whoever taught him should be congratulated because of his fundamentals. He reminds me of a young man named Scott Bankhead who pitched for me, pitched about ten years in the big leagues. Scott was 20-0 for me at North Carolina in his sophomore and junior year and was drafted first round. Richard doesn’t have the velocity that Scott had, but he has the mechanics to be able to throw his pitches in any count and that’s what he did tonight and it was really his mechanics, his sheer, good mechanics that he has such great control that allowed him to stay out there that long.”
Kyle Nicolas (Ball State) closed it out in the fifteenth, striking out the side.
As Dylan Neuse’s (Texas Tech) bat came up silent with a swing and a miss for the third out, the Kettleers secured game one. Nicolas and catcher Cody Pasic simultaneously pumped their fists in victory, letting out screams of elation as their teammates joined them.
Roberts loved Nicolas’ performance too.
“Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh” said Roberts. “You know when we scored [Nicolas] got up and outside of a guy at third base named Casey Schmitt, there’s nobody in the world I’d rather see out there than him without a doubt. I’m very thankful to have Nicolas out there.”
“It was just a team effort, an all around Cotuit Kettleers team effort.” Roberts said with a grin following the win.
The Kettleers will have a chance to capture their seventeenth Cape League Championship on Friday night at Lowell Park versus Harwich. The first pitch is scheduled for 4 PM.