By Mojo Hill
In the pursuit of running it back, Bourne crossed a major hurdle off the checklist Thursday night.
On a night with strong rain in the forecast at McKeon Park, the uncertainty of whether they’d even be able to play this game swirled in the gray, gloomy air. But for the second straight day, the Braves jumped out to an early lead and put a hurt on the Hyannis Harbor Hawks. They muscled their way to a 12-4 victory, eliminating Hyannis and advancing to the championship series for the third straight year.
“I’m super excited for this group,” Bourne manager Scott Landers said. “It’s a new summer. A lot of new guys. Hopefully the end result is going to be the same, but we put ourselves back in a position to win, and that’s all I can ask for. It’s a special group of guys this year that we have. It’s different. And it’s a special group of assistant coaches that I have. I’m not taking all the credit, because they deserve a boatload of it. And the players, showing up every day and working hard, and hopefully clicking on all cylinders going into these next three games.”
A day after scoring nine in the first inning and four in the second, the Braves cast little doubt over which team would emerge victorious by putting up a four-spot in the first. After Bryce Eblin extended his hitting streak to 20 with a double, Derek Bender smashed a three-run homer off his Coastal Carolina teammate Darin Horn. Bender has homered in both games since moving down to the five-hole.
“See more pitches before I get up there, be able to decipher a plan and go in there more informed is kind of a better way to do it,” Bender said of his adjustments in a different spot. “Whatever we can keep doing to win. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m there tomorrow. Landers is kind of a superstitious guy, so I wouldn’t be surprised.”
With Gabe Driscoll on the mound, the Harbor Hawks got one back in the bottom of the first, aided by a leadoff error. Driscoll settled in to throw four solid innings, allowing just one earned run on an Eric Snow RBI double in the fourth. He stranded two in scoring position to end his fourth frame of work. He struck out two and only walked one in his outing.
The Braves added two more runs of their own in the fourth. Pete Ciuffreda stayed hot with an RBI triple, then scored on a Jonathan Vastine single. Ciuffreda has returned to the form he showed early in the summer, providing a potent on-base presence in the nine-hole. Bourne held a 6-2 lead with the taste of victory on the tip of its tongue.
“He’s getting his hits. He’s taking his walks. And he’s a spark plug,” Landers said of Ciuffreda. “He’s an energy guy. He brings it to the table every day for us, and it’s huge whether he’s in there or he’s not. I tip my cap. Everything he’s giving us right now is a bonus. He didn’t think he was gonna be here, and we stuck with him, and he’s back doing what he did before the draft.”
Robb Adams took over on the mound for Driscoll. Adams was a late addition to the roster who will be done after this outing, but he made the most of his opportunity. He gave Bourne a workhorse performance out of the bullpen, pitching all the way into the ninth inning. He allowed one run in the seventh, and finally came out after surrendering a one-out homer in the ninth, but he quelled any chance Hyannis had to make a thrilling comeback.
“They commanded all their pitches and kept them off balance, which was huge,” Landers said of Driscoll and Adams. “Adams got tired in the last inning. I was trying to ride him as long as I could. But other than that, they were throwing both sides of the plate, and three or four pitches for strikes. So when they’re doing that, it’s hard to square one up.”
The Braves’ offense left the bases loaded in the sixth, but they scored one in the seventh and three in the eighth. The rain started to pick up around the end of the seventh inning, leading to a handful of wild pitches and passed balls, along with a whiffed fly ball in right field for Hyannis. Cam Foster recorded his third hit of the night, with his only out thus far coming on a hard liner as well.
“Really just swinging it when I came up,” Foster said. “I had a job to do. Just do it. Don’t try to overthink it.”
With two more in the ninth on a Josh Kuroda-Grauer single, the Braves ran their run total all the way up to 12. They scored 31 runs in this series, 25 of which came in the last two games after falling behind 1-0 in the series.
“Oh man, it’s sort of surreal,” Bender said. “You see us wearing those BP tops with ‘Run It Back’ on it. That’s obviously the goal. But honestly, the mindset has just been getting better every day, just playing our brand of baseball and having the most amount of fun we can.”
The Braves are 4-1 in the playoffs after finishing the regular season with a three-game winning streak. They’ve become West champions both summers that Landers has managed the club, with the young Cape League skipper finding instant success since being promoted from Brewster’s pitching coach.
“That’s what your goal is at the start of the summer,” Landers said. “It feels good to put all the pieces together in the right way. Hopefully it works out the same as it did last year.”
This Braves team has come a long way in a short time. They started the summer slow, then went on a torrid stretch before coming back to Earth and falling to fourth place in the West division. But they’ve gotten hot at the right time, which is nothing new for a Landers-coached ball club.
“It’s just timely events, timely hitting like we’ve seen the last two days,” said Adams, who was a part of last year’s heroics. “Just making the routine plays. Battling through adversities like the weather today. The guys just fielding the ground balls, making the throws. All those little things matter, especially in postseason. When you do things the right way, it always works out for you in the end.”
Bourne will now take on the Orleans Firebirds in the championship series. This one’s for all the marbles. The series will begin Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Eldredge Park, before returning to Doran Park on Saturday.
“They’re kind of like us, in a sense,” Bender said. “They’ve got the arms to beat you. They’ve got enough bats to beat you, and they play solid defense. They’ve got a bunch of guys that want to win. So it’s gonna be a really interesting competition. We’re gonna see who executes better, who wants it more and who’s willing to stick around for the extra day.”