By Mac Friday
(Photo: Braden Reed/Bourne Braves)
On Saturday night at Doran Park, the Bourne Braves and Falmouth Commodores faced off in what can only be described as a battle of epic proportions in front of the biggest crowd of the season at the Braves’ home ballpark.
Bourne found heroes in players such as UNC utility man Mac Horvath and Louisville righty Kade Grundy and after having a seven-spot put on them in Game Two at Guv Fuller Field in the third inning on Friday, the Braves exploded for six runs on Saturday in the fourth in a 45-minute half-inning, riding the offensive outburst with a mix of lights-out pitching to an 8-6 victory and a spot in the West Division Finals against the Hyannis Harbor Hawks.
In matchups like these, history usually sets the barometer for success, as teams in Game Three of every playoff series in the CCBL since 2008 to score first are 17-8. In the first two games, Falmouth had drawn first blood and went 1-1 in the process, but Bourne was not to be denied in the third and final game of the series.
Bourne leadoff hitter and third baseman Bryce Eblin led the game off with a single the other way, but was picked off by Falmouth lefty starter Will Johnston on the basepaths. Johnston then hit Horvath with nobody aboard, allowing first baseman Chris Brito to sear a ball into left-center to put runners on the corners for his Rutgers teammate, left fielder Evan Sleight. The Rutgers outfielder manufactured a walk, putting the Cape League MVP Matt Shaw, who hadn’t reached base yet in the series, up to the plate in the biggest spot thus far for the Maryland Terrapin.
Shaw hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Horvath and put the Braves up 1-0.
Falmouth responded with a run of their own in the top half of the second against Bourne lefty starter Will Sandy. The pitching matchup between the two lefties was a carbon copy of the July 31st matchup between the two teams at Doran Park, a 2-1 win for the Braves. The results were much different as the playoffs rolled around.
Falmouth’s Peyton Stovall and Drew Brutcher essentially copied the act of Horvath and Brito in the bottom half of the first, putting runners at the corners with one out for the big bat of first baseman Jacob Walsh, who delivered with an RBI single to left field to equalize the game at one run apiece.
In the third, Sandy began to falter, allowing two free passes to begin the inning. Stovall took the opportunity to single again, scoring a Commodores run as they retook the lead. The UNC lefty was pulled for the All-Star closer Ty Cummings, who entered in a situation where the Braves’ best arm was needed to limit the damage and keep the game close.
“Our plan was to go to Ty as soon as we found ourselves in a mess,” Braves manager Scott Landers said. “That’s what we did. He was only on one day’s rest, so we figured we would put him in and let him do what he has to do to get some outs.”
Cummings’ earliest appearance of the summer didn’t go to plan as he had hoped at first, as the Campbell Camel walked the bases loaded. The righty then struck out catcher Josiah Cromwick and nearly gave up a single off the bat of Walsh which would’ve burst the game open with at least two runs, but was reminded by his second baseman Shaw why he deserved the Cape League MVP, as the Terrapin leaped up in the air to make a miraculous catch, only comparable to the first play he made with the Braves when he arrived at Eldredge Park in Orleans in mid-June.
M3: Matt Shaw just saved at least two runs with this incredible defensive play at second, robbing Walsh.
He may not be swinging a great bat right now, but holy cow he can play defense. Cummings strands the bases loaded.
2-1 Falmouth. pic.twitter.com/yIbDPDu9EG
— Mac Friday (@macfridayy) August 6, 2022
The Braves tied it with a solo blast from Horvath into the Bourne bullpen, a pitch that the UNC Tarheel didn’t think he got a hold of. The ball snuck out thanks to gusts of wind heading out to left field, going 346 feet.
In the fourth, Falmouth retook the lead after Cummings walked third baseman Anthony Mackenzie and allowed a single off the bat of shortstop Alex Mooney to put runners at the corners for Patrick Roche, who scored Mackenzie via a sacrifice fly. With righty Kade Grundy on the hill following Cummings, it looked like Bourne might be able to escape the jam with some incredible defense, as Eblin made a diving catch at third to save multiple runs.
Once again, Stovall stepped up in another big spot, scorching a ball the other way to left. Sleight nearly got to it to make another diving defensive gem, but it bounced off the webbing of his glove. Falmouth scored two more to go up 5-2.
Bourne was down, but it certainly wasn’t out. Center fielder Nelson Taylor started a magical chain reaction in the fourth for Bourne as the momentum started to shift at Doran Park. The Polk State product hit a ball to short that got through the legs of Mooney, an opportunity which Taylor used to go to second. Shortstop John Peck singled to put runners at the corners.
The miracles began when Eblin stepped up and chopped a ball down the third base line, just far enough to become a debatable play infringing on the territory between pitcher and third baseman. Eblin used his speed to beat out the throw. Taylor scored. Horvath reached on a hit-by-pitch for the second time. With the bases juiced, Brito hit a bounding ball that bounced off the ground just outside the batter’s box but carried enough momentum to fly over the outstretched glove of Walsh and down the right field line. The Braves had tied it up.
B4: Chris Brito hit a two-RBI double, a chopper over Walsh's head at first. Peck and Eblin score. Horvath at third, Brito at second.
We are tied.
— Mac Friday (@macfridayy) August 6, 2022
“I was just doing whatever I could to help the team win,” Brito said. “If you weren’t at the game, it’s hard to describe what happened. The emotions took over. Even though I didn’t hit it that hard, it turned into a double. It was awesome.”
Sleight dispatched another infield single on a play nearly identical to Eblin’s and legged it out to give the Bravos the lead. Later in the inning, he would score on a wild pitch to put Bourne up 8-6.
“We knew we had it in us,” Brito said. “We knew we could do it as a team, it just came down to us having trust in each other, giving it to the next guy knowing he was going to deliver. That’s what we did in the fourth.”
“Sometimes luck is a little better than talent,” Landers said. “We didn’t get anything going yesterday, but today we had some infield hits that we have not had all season, but we have had against us and we grinded it out. We will take it.”
Following the 45-minute fourth, Grundy settled in, not allowing another run across four and a third innings of heroic relief. He sat down Falmouth in order in the sixth and seventh and halted any Commodore momentum still wafting around Doran Park.
Landers went to righty Nolan Sparks from D3 Rochester for a four-out save. Sparks didn’t allow a hit in his appearance, striking out two Falmouth batters, including marquis center fielder Andrew Pinckney from The University of Alabama in a matchup that could only be described as quintessential Cape Cod Baseball.
“I think that they figured out that (Sparks and former D3 Oswego State player Ryan Enos) they belong,” Landers said.
Up next for Bourne is a matchup with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, who clinched a spot in the West Finals with a 15-5 drubbing of the Cotuit Kettleers. Game One will kick off at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening.