By Mojo Hill
It’s been a season of the ups and downs, but the Bourne Braves will be heading into the playoffs on a hot note.
They completed the regular season with an 8-3 victory over the Hyannis Harbor Hawks at Doran Park on Wednesday. It was their third win in a row, giving them a final record of 23-20-1.
“It was a good three games,” Braves manager Scott Landers said. “Even though they didn’t mean anything; for us mentally and just playing the game one at a time. Getting to the playoffs, I think going in on a high is a good note.”
Jonathan Vastine smacked a leadoff triple and scored on a Kendall Diggs groundout to give Bourne a quick 1-0 lead. Vastine’s bat has come back to Earth lately, but he displayed the flash and hustle he’s showed all season.
“I think he needed that game,” Landers said of Vastine, who wound up collecting three base knocks on the night. “His luck hasn’t been great the last couple games. He’s found some barrels, and they haven’t fallen. So I think it got him back on the right track.”
With the Braves in need of pitchers, left-hander Robb Adams returned to Bourne after pitching 15 innings for the club last summer. Adams is coming off a strong season at the NAIA school Southeastern, where he posted a 3.36 ERA with 11.7 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9.
Adams didn’t throw a pitch harder than the mid-80s, with a repertoire designed to keep hitters off balance. Some of his curveballs even registered in the high 60s. Despite a lack of overpowering stuff, he managed to be effective in his three innings of work.
He walked the first hitter, then nabbed a pickoff to face the minimum in the opening inning. He allowed just a hit batter in the second, then worked around two errors in the third — one of which was of his own doing on a pickoff attempt. With two in scoring position and two outs, he induced a ground ball from Cam Smith to keep Bourne ahead.
“I pitch backwards quite a bit. The offspeed stuff early was key,” Adams said. “And then locating the fastball well — it’s not necessarily overpowering by any means — but locating it well, you sneak one here and there, get a guy to roll over and mishit one. Then the offspeed stuff plays a lot better.”
Adams finished his 2023 summer debut with three hitless innings under his belt. He walked two, struck out two and hit a batter.
“[Batters] don’t see 84-86. They see a lot harder than that,” Adams said. “So it’s an advantage for me. I just trust my stuff, and go out there and do what I can do.”
The Braves then added two more in the bottom of the third. Pete Ciuffreda was hit by a pitch, and Vastine collected his second hit. They both came home on a groundout and a wild pitch.
Max LeBlanc entered for the fourth and quickly found himself in hot water with the bases loaded and one out. But after falling behind 3-1, he bore down and kept the ball in the strike zone, inducing two key popups to escape trouble.
The Braves added another on Vastine’s third hit in the bottom of the fourth. Ciuffreda also drew a walk in the inning, running his OBP up to .398 despite a .192 batting average.
“If you’re gonna go 0-for-4, make it an 0-for-2,” Ciuffreda said. “Get on base. Get hit by a pitch. If you know you don’t feel great with the barrel, just be a scrapper up there. Get on base and just compete. That’s all anyone wants in your teammates, and that’s kind of what our M.O. has been.”
Bryce Eblin extended his hitting streak to 15 with a two-out double in the fifth. That’s the second-longest in Bourne Braves history. Then Josh Kuroda-Grauer came up clutch with an RBI single, extending the lead to 5-0.
With a comfortable lead and a playoff position wrapped up, Landers took Vastine, Eblin and Derek Bender out of the game. Bender finished the regular season with a .374 batting average, the best in franchise history and second-best on the Cape this summer, only narrowly behind Falmouth’s Travis Bazzana. Eblin finished with the second-best in a season for the Braves at .367.
Nu’u Contrades, freshly into the game, hit an RBI double to drive in Ciuffreda, who collected a single. It brought Ciuffreda’s average back above .200 and his OBP above .400, with 15 hits compared to 25 free passes on the summer — truly a statistical oddity for the ages.
“A slump or anything like that is in between your ears,” Ciuffreda said. “The game has a great way of humbling you. We’ve been working on just trying to be on time with the fastball. Try to get a bunch of things out of your head, all the hypotheticals…. Why don’t you just go up there and try to hit the fastball as hard as you can, right? Think simple, and it worked out.”
Pitcher Mason Manriquez made his Braves debut in the sixth after showing up to the ballpark just a few innings earlier. He threw a scoreless frame before allowing a run on a double and a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Anthony Figueroa relieved him with two outs and sent the game to the seventh inning stretch with Bourne up 6-1.
Contrades made an error to lead off the eighth, which ignited an ugly inning for Figueroa. A double play seemed to keep things in check, but two runs came home on a passed ball and a pinch-hit RBI single by Bennett Thompson. Figueroa exited after a four-pitch walk. Jack Sullivan came in and got out of the inning with a lineout to Cam Foster at third, keeping Bourne up by three and avoiding a disastrous collapse.
But the Ciuffreda show resumed in the eighth, as he smacked an RBI double for his 16th hit of the summer. It was his third extra-base hit of the season and fourth time on base on Wednesday. He finished the night with his average at .213 and OBP at .410. Evin Sullivan, who just rejoined the team and entered the game for Bender, tacked on one more with a sacrifice fly to make it an 8-3 game.
Sullivan locked down the final five outs, capping the end of Bourne’s regular season with a win.
“It’s really important that the new guys, that just came this week or came last week, see how it is, and how Coach Landers and Coach [Jarrod] Saltalamacchia and the rest of the coaches here run the show,” Ciuffreda said. “And to see how it is to win as a team, but also contribute to that cause of ‘running it back.’ We’ve been saying that since the first day, and now it’s here, right?”
The Braves will begin their playoff run against the first-place Cotuit Kettleers at Lowell Park on Friday with a 4 p.m. first pitch.
“We’ve done everything we can,” Ciuffreda said. “Ups and valleys of the season. So now it’s all we’ve done and all that we’ve learned. Let’s put in our best foot forward.”