By Mojo Hill
The 2023 Bourne Braves began their quest to run it back with a sprint.
Facing Cam Hill, who entered the action with the Cape League’s lowest ERA, the Braves grinded out at-bats, jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back. They put a hurt on the first-place Cotuit Kettleers — and in enemy territory, no less — exploding for a 14-8 victory at Lowell Park.
“We came out with a good plan, other than the first inning, against a really good arm,” Bourne manager Scott Landers said. “We had a good game plan at the plate. We just gotta clean some things up. But we’ll take it. A win’s a win. We just gotta play better defense and not walk guys.”
The Braves’ rally began with two straight free passes in the second inning. Sam Petersen came through with a one-out RBI single, and Garrett Michel followed with a hit to left field in a tough left-handed matchup for him. The ball got by the left fielder, allowing Petersen to score and Michel to reach second with Bourne up 3-0. Hill had only allowed four runs all summer before the Braves hung a three-spot on him.
“Trusting our approach and just passing it on to the next guy,” Michel said. “I feel like that’s what we did really well. Just gave it on to the next guy, let everybody work in their own ways, and we came out well.”
The Kettleers tried to strike back in the bottom of the second, as Bryce Cunningham surrendered a bloop hit and issued a walk. He then committed a balk, putting runners in scoring position with one out. But he kept working at a quick pace and pumped three fastballs by Trotter Harlan, then induced a flyout to escape trouble.
Bryce Eblin smacked a double in the third inning, extending his hitting streak to a franchise-record 16 and putting two in scoring position once again. Kendall Diggs drew a walk with two outs, but Hill recorded strikeouts of Nu’u Contrades and Petersen to keep the Braves off the board.
Still, Bourne ran Hill’s pitch count up and knocked him out of the game after three innings. Facing reliever Cullen McKay, Josh Kuroda-Grauer blasted his first home run of the summer — a no-doubt shot to left field. Kuroda-Grauer has had trouble lifting the ball recently, but he had no problem attacking that 93 mph fastball. It was a two-run blast to blow Bourne out to a 5-0 lead.
“It hasn’t been the best summer for me personally, but the team’s doing awesome,” Kuroda-Grauer said. “And they’ve been behind me the whole way.”
Cunningham worked around two baserunners in the third inning, but couldn’t hold Cotuit scoreless in the fourth. After a single and a double, two-way player Cole Mathis recorded the Kettleers’ third straight hit with a two-run double. Cunningham still got through the inning, then exited with one out in the fifth after a hustle double by Jeffery Heard.
“He’s grinding it out right now with the blister on the finger,” Landers said. “Whatever he gives us is a bonus. And he pitched great. It just got sore in that last inning, and I had to take him out.”
Trystan Levesque got the final two outs of the fifth, setting the table for a monumental four-run sixth inning. Kuroda-Grauer stayed hot with an RBI single after hits from Michel and Gage Harrelson, and Derek Bender slammed a two-run double to right-center. Eblin tacked on yet another hit, his second of the game to widen the gap to 9-2.
The next inning saw another blast, this time off the bat of Michel. He smashed his team-leading fifth home run, the second two-run shot of the night to send Bourne into double digits.
“It was just another changeup that he threw,” Michel said. “I fouled the first one off. I felt on time for it, and I got ahold of it pretty well.”
Levesque allowed a run in the seventh after another double by Mathis, but he held the fort through the seventh inning.
Kuroda-Grauer smacked another ball in the eighth, this time to right-center. He sprinted all the way to third base, coming within a double of the cycle despite striking out in his first two at-bats. He scored on a throwing error from the shortstop to make the Braves’ run total an even dozen. Eblin, who reached on the error, came around to score on another error from the same shortstop, along with Contrades, who was one of two Braves hit by a pitch in the inning. After the top of the eighth was said and done, Bourne had a whopping 14-3 lead.
Levesque finally ran out of the gas in the bottom of the eighth, allowing three baserunners to load the bases with one out. Brady Afthim took over and surrendered an infield hit, then a ground ball that Contrades bobbled to get Cotuit within a 14-5 margin. Afthim was able to limit the damage after getting a strikeout and a groundout.
Cotuit got three more runs back in the ninth inning on a home run by James McCoy and a two-run single by Jack Scanlon. Despite a shaky ending, Afthim recorded the final outs Bourne needed to go home with a relatively luxurious postseason victory.
The Braves will go home to Doran Park on Saturday with a chance to advance to the next round. If the Kettleers stay alive, the teams will return to Lowell Park for a winner-take-all matchup on Sunday. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. in Bourne.
“It’s nice. Winning the first game’s huge,” Michel said. “For everybody, it’s just trying to win the next one and take it one game at a time and take nothing for granted.”