By Mac Friday
(Photo: Joey Kurtz/Bourne Braves)
Bourne second baseman Matt Shaw twirled his brown-barrelled bat in his hands in the on-deck circle under indigo skies at McKeon Park. The Maryland Terrapin was on an absolute tear on Sunday night, but not even the magnitude of his performance bothered him, staying tranquil and serene he swayed and swung, preparing to lead off the final frame of the game.
After an early strikeout to open the contest, Shaw responded with a leadoff home run in the third, a single in the fifth and a leadoff triple in the seventh. He hadn’t even stepped into the batter’s box for his fifth at-bat of the night, but he knew what he was going to do. So did his Braves coaches and teammates.
“There was no way Shaw wasn’t going to let it happen,” Braves infielder Wyatt Henseler said.
“In the dugout after we heard he needed a double, we knew he was going to do it,” third baseman Bryce Eblin agreed. “He’s just that type of guy.”
Shaw stepped in and half-swung at a pitch on the outside edge of the zone for strike one. Next came an off-speed pitch, outside and away to even the count at 1-1. Sizing up righty Chase Centala, Shaw saw slider from release all the way to the bottom of the strike zone and pierced a line drive off of the base of the outfield wall in right-center.
Cruising into second base, the Cape League All-Star accomplished history, hitting for the first CCBL cycle since Chatham first baseman Richie Shaffer did it on June 18, 2011, over 11 years ago, propelling the Braves to an 8-1 win over the Hyannis Harbor Hawks.
“I was just looking to sit on the right pitch,” Shaw told Braves sideline reporter Ethan Frank after the game. “He gave me a first-pitch fastball and then I saw him shaking off a bunch of pitches and I figured he might go to the slider because he threw it pretty often. I found the right pitch and hit it.”
“He was just exceptional,” Braves manager Scott Landers said. “He had a great day and really represented what our entire offense did today.”
After just one run on two hits in a painful loss to the Brewster Whitecaps, the Braves returned to their winnings ways with an offense firing on all cylinders. Returning to the scene of their miraculous and dominant 11-run top of the ninth in an 18-10 comeback win over Hyannis at McKeon certainly might’ve provided some inspiration. The Braves turned a massive corner after Saturday’s loss, scoring eight runs on 14 hits in a dominant win that saw 10 Bravos record a hit.
“Our offense played really well,” Landers said. “Baseball is a game of new days and we had a conversation about the summer and coming to the ballpark each day and changing the attitude and I think it clicked with them.”
Unlike the last time they visited McKeon, the Braves didn’t waste any time in the top of the first. Third baseman Bryce Eblin led off with a bloop single and then advanced all the way around the bases on a bad throw across the infield that was hit by center fielder Mac Horvath. Designated hitter Evan Sleight singled, moving Horvath to third. Right fielder Carson Jones walked on four pitches. Another poor throw across the infield by Hyannis shortstop Dom Pitelli on a worm burner hit by John Peck up the middle brought home Horvath and Sleight. Peck then took off for second to squeeze Jones across for a four-run first before he was tagged out.
After Shaw’s solo leadoff blast to center field in the third, Horvath hit his third home run in just six games with the Braves, a solo blast just over the right field wall in front of the scoreboard. More runs scored in the seventh, starting with Shaw’s leadoff triple. Sleight brought his second baseman home with an RBI double into right-center for back-to-back Braves extra-base hits.
“We just found a way to keep things simple today,” Eblin said after logging a 3-for-4 day with a trio of singles and a walk. “The past couple of days have been tough for our offense. We just shortened up and got the swings down and got some pretty good barrels.”
The Braves also had some serious help from an unsung hero, overshadowed by Shaw’s exceptional night at the plate. When you think of dominant pitchers on the Braves, the likes of All-Stars Seth Keener and Ty Cummings come to mind. Flying under the radar though is a right-handed competitor to the core, Campbell’s Cade Boxrucker.
After two starts early in the season in which he allowed one run, Boxrucker faltered in early July against Wareham, being chased after just three and a third innings in which he allowed two runs on three hits with a pair of walks. He looked rushed, overthrowing his pitches. Boxrucker rallied for four innings of shutout ball against Cotuit, but as he warmed up on Sunday, he feared he might be on the path to a sequel of his performance in Wareham.
“When I was in the bullpen before the game, I did not feel good,” Boxrucker said. “My head hurt, I was sweating like crazy and my arm wasn’t feeling the best. I just wanted to build on the success of my start last week with how calm and collected I was, but I was a little shaky at first. I wanted to prove the doubters wrong and I did that today. I just brought my stuff.”
In January, Boxrucker broke his fibula. The right-hander required screws and a metal plate in his leg and since the injury, hadn’t pitched more than five innings. On Sunday, Boxrucker went for five and two-thirds of one-run baseball, allowing just two hits. For his first five innings of work thought, Boxrucker hadn’t allowed a single hit.
In the second, Boxrucker navigated out of a bases-loaded jam which he induced by three consecutive free passes via a nifty double play and then groundout back towards him on the mound.
In the sixth, the Harbor Hawks finally broke through with back-to-back singles, allowing a run to score on a sacrifice fly to center. Boxrucker wanted to get the final out of the frame but was pulled by Landers. Despite disagreeing with the decision to be pulled, Boxrucker raved about how beneficial his outing was for his overall confidence.
“It 100 percent boosts me, definitely,” Boxrucker said. “It’s the longest I’ve gone since my injury. Escaping the jam in the second was awesome. It’s a start for me to build off of and I’m always looking to get better.”
The Bourne bullpen consisting of righties Matt Duffy, Cameron Bye and Kade Grundy then closed out the rest of the game, allowing just one hit as a unit.
Next up for the Braves is a much-needed off-day on Monday after essentially two weeks straight of baseball due to Fenway Day workouts instead of a complete day with no baseball activities. Following the off-day though is perhaps the most pivotal stretch of the season, a four-game homestand against all West Division opponents at Doran Park, which hasn’t been friendly to its hosts in 2022.
The Braves are 6-6-3 at Doran Park, but the real story lies with the team’s offensive production at the park, one of the hardest places to hit on the Cape. With one of the largest outfields in the CCBL and a reputation for balls failing to fall or dying in the air, the Braves have to find a way to hit at their home stadium.
Bourne is hitting a dismal .212 as a team at Doran with just 97 hits: 17 doubles, three triples and three home runs.
On the flip side, the Braves boast a .241 batting average on the road, with 128 hits: 20 doubles, two triples and 14 home runs.
For Landers and his team, it’s been one of the largest hindrances on his squad this season.
“It’s probably the toughest ballpark to hit home runs at in the league,” Landers said. “You have to play to the ballpark, not try to just hit home runs. We have to hit for line drives, grind out at-bats and see what we can do. A lot of our guys hit better at home, the ball just doesn’t fly out as much.”
The Bourne homestand begins on Tuesday against West Division rival Wareham. The two sides have tied 2-2 in all three meetings this season and will play twice at Doran during the four-game stretch, leaving multiple chances to finally escape the funk. First pitch is set for 6:00 p.m.