By: Jacob Janower (Photo: Blaine McCormick)
Nick Johnson entered the game in one of the toughest situations that a reliever can inherit.
The bases were loaded, nobody was out, and the Orleans Firebirds were a run away from tying the Bourne Braves in the eighth inning.
However, Johnson (Rhode Island) rose to the occasion, getting a pop out, strikeout, and a groundout to end the inning and prevent the Firebirds from scoring. His clutch pitching played a major role in Bourne’s 2-1 win over Orleans.
“Nick is a veteran pitcher and he’s deceptive on the mound,” pitching coach Jordan Tabakman said. “He just attacks, he’s not afraid to fail. He pitched with conviction tonight and it showed. He had his breaking ball and he was able to get away with it with just one pitch and that was pretty impressive to see.”
Two first inning runs were all that starting pitcher Eli Kraus (Kent State) and the bullpen needed in the Braves’ (2-1) victory that featured no shortage of drama.
Kraus, a left-hander who just completed his junior season, was efficient throughout, pitching to contact and getting strikeouts when he needed them. While it is a minuscule sample size, the five and 2/3 innings that he threw was the longest outing of any Braves starter so far this season.
The effort by Kraus was marked by his pinpoint control. He had just one three ball count and threw a first pitch strike to 12 of the first 14 batters that he faced.
“I was pitching a lot off my fastball and mixing in a lot of change-ups,” Kraus said. “If I was going to get contact I wanted to get really weak contact. This was my first start since college ball so the idea was just to get them out in front a little bit and try to cause some weak contact.”
The Braves wasted no time jumping on Firebirds’ starter Jackson Goddard (Kansas) in the first inning. After two quick outs, Lyle Lin (Arizona State) became the first of five consecutive hitters to reach base. Second baseman Grant Williams (Kennesaw State) brought home a run with an infield single and Zac Susi (UConn) drove home another after he drew a walk.
After two games of not cashing in on run-scoring opportunities, the early tallies served as a breakthrough of sorts for the Braves.
The first inning also proved to be huge for Kraus, as he had a lead before he even set foot on the mound.
Goddard, Deason Handle Braves
After the first inning, it was smooth sailing for Goddard and Cody Deason (Arizona) of the Firebirds, as Bourne did not advance another runner into scoring position until the fifth inning.
In that inning, the Braves loaded the bases, but a strikeout and a double play put a kibosh on the threat. Deason would go on the strike out the side in the following frame.
Kraus and reliever Ian Miller (Harvard) got into jams in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, but were able to escape with just one run allowed.
After retiring the lead-off hitter in the fifth inning, Kraus surrendered three straight singles, but got Firebirds’ first baseman Lars Nootbaar (USC) to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
“I was trying to get a double play ball the whole time and it wasn’t happening,” Kraus said. “At that point, I had a great defense behind me, just tried to get some weak contact again.”
In the following two innings, the Firebirds put runners on first and second with two outs, but both innings ended with Miller getting a strikeout.
The middle innings served as a departure from Kraus’ dominant state over the first four innings, but the ability of him and Miller to walk a tightrope and escape without much damage proved to be huge in the grand scheme of things.
Feltner Brings the Heat
Head coach Harvey Shapiro tabbed Ryan Feltner (Ohio State) to get the save, and the right-hander breezed through the Firebirds’ order.
Coming off of an Opening Day outing in which he recorded two strikeouts in a scoreless inning, Feltner reached at least 95 miles per hour with his fastball with relative ease.
“We wanted to bring in a power arm, and Feltner was 95, 96 tonight, hit 97,” Tabakman said. “He did a really good job. They had a couple lefties in their lineup, and with his fastball and change-up we thought he would be a better matchup tonight.”
Brave of the Game
Due to his dominant outing, Kraus was the best Brave on the diamond on Saturday night. His outing was reminiscent of what he had been doing all season long with the Golden Flashes, not necessarily racking up the strikeouts, but maintaining his command throughout.
Despite the gap between the end of his college season and Saturday’s start, Kraus was not worried about how he would fare with the time off.
“I was just trying to stay as mentally fresh as I could coming off my college season and try to keep my head on as straight as I could,” he said. “I’ve been working the last couple days, some flat ground stuff, a couple bullpens to just iron some stuff out. Ultimately I was just more excited than anything to get back out there.”
Coming Up: The Braves will play their first of two doubleheaders on Sunday against the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox at Doran Park. First pitch of game one will be at 4 pm.
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