By Mac Friday
(Photo: Braden Reed/Bourne Braves)
On Monday, the Bourne Braves showed up to Lowell Park, eager for their final road game of the season against the hosting Cotuit Kettleers. The task ahead of the Braves was simple: win against Cotuit, and give yourself a chance to win the West Division against Hyannis on Tuesday.
The pitter-patter of rain against the Lowell Park landscape indicated otherwise. A rain delay halted the action against Cotuit and as the Braves took to right field to play an impromptu game of football, the prospect of getting the game in dwindled, especially with no lights at Lowell.
Ultimately the game was called off, despite the batter’s box and mound being bone-dry.
No matter the reason, when the Braves finally did get a game in against the Ketts on Wednesday after taking down Hyannis at home on Tuesday, they brought the thunder and lightning with their bats, beating the Kettleers in a 9-0 downpour of offense to win the President’s Trophy and West Division Championship setting up a first-round matchup with the four-seed Falmouth Commodores.
With the second successive first-place finish in the West, the Braves became the first team ever to win the President’s Trophy two years in a row since its creation in 2012. The Braves are also the first team to have outright ownership to the best record in the league in back-to-back seasons since the Wareham Gatemen in 1996-97.
“Offensively, I think we swung it up there with some of our best games all year going into the playoffs,” Braves manager Scott Landers said. “We just have to stay the course now and start with a win in this first series against Falmouth.”
After three games with seven hits or less, the Bourne offense came alive in the second inning against the Ketts, instigated by the newest Bourne position player and the fourth Rutgers Scarlet Knight to don navy and red this summer, second baseman Josh Kuroda-Grauer. Called “JKG” by coaches and teammates, the newest Brave laced a leadoff single in the second inning for his first hit in his first Braves at-bat.
Kuroda-Grauer didn’t stay on base for long though, as left fielder Ryan Enos smashed a home run 326 feet over the left field fence for a two-run shot, his first of the summer. The Oswego State Laker transferring to East Tennessee State was beginning to embrace his role as one of the best bunters on the team and tried to show bunt in his first at-bat, but quickly found himself in a two-strike count and took advantage of a hanging breaking ball.
“I was just trying to do my job,” Enos chuckled. “I wanted to bunt but I kept fouling it off. Eventually, he hung a slider and I put a good swing on it, that was pretty much it.”
— Mac Friday (@macfridayy) August 3, 2022
Kuroda-Grauer then continued to impact the contest in the third after shortstop Matt Shaw got aboard with a walk and advanced to third on a single by designated hitter Chris Brito. JKG did the honors to score Shaw on an RBI fielder’s choice.
After batting .331 in 44 games with the Newport Gulls of the NECBL this summer, there wasn’t the harsh transition period for Kuroda-Grauer like there is with most players who come to the Cape. Being with his Rutgers teammates Evan Sleight and Brito certainly helps too.
“Immediately with my first day yesterday, the guys and coaches are just great,” Kuroda-Grauer said. “They made me feel comfortable day one, which allowed me to come out here and play baseball easily. I just wanted to be aggressive and do a job for my team. I just wanted to come in and help, there wasn’t that much to adjust to after playing all summer already.”
In his Braves debut, Kuroda-Grauer went 2-for-4 with two runs scored, an RBI and a walk, including a second single to left in the fourth inning.
Up 4-0 in the fifth, Kuroda-Grauer’s single followed up a Brito walk before Enos started a train of three RBI singles in four at-bats by the Braves. Enos, center fielder Nelson Taylor and catcher Alan Espinal each singled to score a run in rapid succession.
Enos would add a double and a walk to finish his day 3-for-4 with three RBI.
“It’s just all about looking for good pitches and putting good swings on them,” Enos said. “I did that today, the team did that, so we are going to try and continue to do that in the playoffs as we get rolling.”
The Braves added another run in the seventh on a Taylor sacrifice fly to score Enos, as well as a solo shot by right fielder Mac Horvath, his second in as many days.
The Braves also dominated on the mound on Wednesday evening in a game that saw all but one new face take the bump. Lefty starter Robb Adams did the honors and tossed four innings of three-hit, no-run baseball. He continued his mean streak of picking off opposing runners, making it four in two starts for the big lefty from Florida.
Adams exited early on just 39 pitches to make way for a trial run of recent Bourne arrivals. First came righty Justin Baeyens who is headed to the University of Maine next fall. He tossed a hitless frame with a walk and a strikeout but faced the minimum after Espinal caught right fielder Eddie Park trying to swipe second.
E5: Alan Espinal (@Alvn_Espi16) with a seed to get Eddie Park swiping second to end the fifth.
Bourne is flexing its muscles in every facet of the ballgame.
— Mac Friday (@macfridayy) August 3, 2022
Righty Sean Culkin from James Madison entered for the sixth and stayed in until the final out of the seventh, then was pulled for a better matchup. Culkin went an inning and two-thirds, allowing a hit and a strikeout.
Lefty Cooper Smith from Stetson took over for the final out of the seventh and pitched the eighth, not allowing a hit with just one walk.
Righty Nolan Sparks from D3 Rochester came in for the ninth and sat down the side with a strikeout and two flyouts.
The solid debuts of the four new Bourne relievers were a welcome sight to Landers and his staff, especially as they add strength and depth to an already loaded pen with the likes of righties Kade Grundy, Ryan Fischer, Nigel Belgrave and All-Star closer Ty Cummings, as well as lefties Will Sandy and Cregg Scherrer.
“They all came in and did exactly what I thought they’d do,” Landers said. “It was awesome, it makes us confident to go to different guys in different situations… We have pitched our butts off this year. The pitchers have come out and done exactly what they came to do here this summer and that is compete continuously.”
With 44 games down, next comes the Braves’ first-round matchup with the Falmouth Commodores, a team with which the Braves split the regular season series. Game One is at Doran Park at 6:00 p.m., a matchup that Landers and his squad are eager and prepared for.
“I looked at the scenarios today for about an hour and it all comes down to three games,” Landers said. “Whether it was Falmouth or Hyannis, both have their strengths and weaknesses. I think top to bottom, offensively, defensively and on the mound we are in really good shape compared to some teams. We just have to take it day by day and beat a really good Falmouth team.”