By Mac Friday
(Photo: Braden Reed/Bourne Braves)
Up 3-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth, Braves manager Scott Landers went to the bullpen, sending in UConn righty Justin Willis, one of the nation’s top closers with 15 saves in 2022. An error and a walk brought the tying and winning run aboard, but Willis, cool as a cucumber, navigated the jam seamlessly, even after an intentional walk brought the bases loaded for a potential double play.
Nevertheless, Willis and the Braves traversed the trouble, grabbing their third straight victory in Chatham over the Anglers on an exciting Friday night of baseball at Veteran’s Field.
“The end was a little closer than we needed it to be,” Landers said. “We started off with a blunder in the ninth and put ourselves in a hole but Justin did what he needed to do.
The Braves struck first in the top of the first frame, as center fielder Elijah Nunez singled to lead off the contest and advanced all the way to third on a single by two-hole hitter Matt Shaw. Right fielder Jack Duffy then smacked an RBI single the other way to score Nunez.
The Braves bats came back alive in the fourth as Duffy reached on a leadoff walk and third baseman John Peck singled. A fielder’s choice and sacrifice bunt later brought Duffy across.
Braves pitcher Hunter Furtado, regularly a reliever for the Alabama Crimson Tide across the 2022 campaign, took the bump for Bourne in Chatham. The lanky lefty dealt fire and ice through the first four innings, touching mid-90s with his fastball and mid-70s with his breaker, allowing just a single and walk while striking out two. Expecting to be pulled ahead of the fifth, Furtado was juiced when Landers stuck with his starter for another frame.
“I told him when I went back in after the fourth that I was good for the fifth and he let me have it,” Furtado said of Landers. “I was throwing my offspeed for strikes and I felt like I was able to miss some bats today with the fastball too.”
The A’s fought back in the fifth with two outs with a single from shortstop Marcus Brown, who was brought home on a monstrous blast to left field by center fielder Jake Deleo.
The Braves took the lead back in the seventh via the bat of designated hitter Evan Sleight, who was responsible for the sac bunt in the fourth. Sleight smashed a breaking ball for a solo leadoff shot to right-center. The Braves got two more runners on later in the frame with a two-out walk and single, but both runners were stranded.
Shortstop Matt Shaw continued to light up the scorebook with his 11th game in a row where he has reached, going 3-for-5 with two singles and a double on Friday night. In a stretch where the BRaves have struggled in the batter’s box, Shaw has been the outlier, finding ways to get on when noone else can.
“I’ve just been seeing the ball well and sitting on the right pitches with a good approach in the box,” Shaw said. “I think my approach is something that I’ve slowly kind of grown and learned as the game goes on. It’s been a growing process for the last few years for me and I’m working to continue to improve it.”
Boston College righty Mason Pelio continued the great success of the Braves bullpen over the last week, filling in for Furtado in the sixth and tossing three innings of one-hit ball at a raucous Veteran’s Field feeding off of the Chatham explosion in the fifth. Pelio, who regularly sits 95-97 with his fastball, is accustomed to just one or two innings of work in his time with Boston College and the Braves, but even after it seemed Pelio was emptying the tank in the seventh, Landers stuck with him into the eighth.
“Mason came out and held us right where we needed to be,” Landers said. “He was throwing the ball great and even with 52 pitches, he was still sitting 95-96 with his last pitch. He threw strikes and his breaking ball was better than I thought it was in the past. He helped us a lot tonight.”
“My fastball and curveball combo tonight were very effective,” Pelio reflected. “I’ve been held to one or two innings all spring and summer, so going out for the third, I was pretty fired up. I was happy to prove to myself that I can go a little bit of a distance that isn’t necessarily equivalent to a starter but coming out of the pen for three shutout innings and filling it up, even when I was fatigued, it was good.”
Pelio followed up fantastic performances from Seth Keener (4.1 IP, 1 H, 6 K vs. Harwich) and Nelson Berkwich (3.1 IP, 2 H, 5 K at Falmouth), bringing loads of confidence to a unit that suffered over a four-game winless skid earlier this week.
“The bullpen is definitely doing its part,” Pelio said. “I feel like there have been some high-run games but I feel like being a part of the bullpen we’ve been holding games close games constantly and consistently and doing our job when we need to and that’s important.”
With the win, the Braves have won three games in a row, the longest streak of the season. Bourne is still two games behind Hyannis in the West but is back in the win column at 8-7-3. The Braves are back in action on Saturday against the Falmouth Commodores, the second time the West Division opponent will face. First pitch is set for 6:00 p.m.