By Mojo Hill
The Bourne Braves will have to wait another day to run it back.
With a chance to win the championship on their home grass for the first time in franchise history, they suffered a 4-3 loss to the Orleans Firebirds Saturday night. The Firebirds, whose strength has been pitching all season long, silenced a Bourne offense that had been red hot. The Braves nearly pulled off a miracle in the bottom of the ninth, but their efforts came up just short and forced a winner-take-all Game 3 back on Orleans’ home ground.
“We lost a baseball game. Stuff didn’t go our way early,” Bourne manager Scott Landers said. “I didn’t think we got a couple calls early, but it is what it is. They were close. They had some bloopers, timely hits. We settled in and pitched well from that point on, but we just lost. We gotta come back tomorrow. They came to play today. They’re not laying down for us, so we gotta come and play our A game tomorrow.”
The Firebirds attacked Henry Weycker right away for two runs in the first inning. Four of the first five batters recorded hits, including each of the first three. Weycker put the inning to bed with two runners in scoring position, avoiding an even more dire situation with his team still down 2-0.
Jonathan Vastine wasted no time setting the table for Bourne in the bottom of the first, slapping the first pitch he saw for a single. Bryce Eblin came up big with two outs, as he sliced an RBI double into the right field corner to cut the deficit in half. The knock extended Eblin’s hitting streak to 22.
Orleans got one more in the second inning after a pair of leadoff baserunners and a sacrifice fly from Fenwick Trimble. Weycker stranded a runner on third base, but the Braves trailed 3-1 after an inning and a half.
Sam Petersen and Hugh Pinkney hit back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with one out in the bottom of the second, but they couldn’t come up with any runs. Gage Harrelson struck out, and Vastine put up a long at-bat before flying out.
Josh Kuroda-Grauer stayed hot with a leadoff single in the third. He nearly beat out a fielder’s choice play at second base where shortstop Jack Penney slipped, but the umpire called him out. Landers, Kuroda-Grauer and the crowd all voiced their displeasure to no avail. The Braves came up empty again.
Weycker settled in, allowing a two-out baserunner in the third and fourth innings but holding Orleans at three runs. He ended up going five innings with just that trio of runs on the board. Kuroda-Grauer made another diving catch to end the fifth, helping Weycker throw the first 1-2-3 inning for either team. He struck out four and walked one.
“He gave us a strong outing at the start,” Landers said. “He kept us in there. That’s what he needed to do.”
Still stuck in a 3-1 rut, the Braves’ offensive energy dissipated. Starter Ivran Romero retired the last seven batters he faced and completed a strong six-inning performance.
Bourne’s Brady Afthim threw a scoreless sixth, but surrendered a solo homer to the 5-foot-7 Jo Oyama in the seventh. It became a three-run hole that felt even deeper with the lack of offensive production the Braves had in the middle innings.
Left-hander Jonathan Gonzalez took over and picked up where Romero left off. The two Firebirds pitchers combined to retire 13 consecutive Braves.
“They threw strikes, and they used all their pitches to keep us off balance,” Landers said. “I’ll tip my cap to them. They pitched great.”
With the crowd still rowdy and into the game, the Braves ignited their biggest spark of the night with a ninth-inning comeback attempt. With Gonzalez still in the game, he dropped a throw from the first baseman, allowing Eblin to reach. Derek Bender drew a walk, bringing the tying run to the plate and prompting Orleans manager Kelly Nicholson to go to his closer, Sean Matson.
Garrett Michel flew out on the first pitch he saw, and slammed his bat with frustration in the process. But it was Petersen who nearly made everyone’s hearts drop, slamming a ball to deep right-center field that hopped over the fence for a ground-rule double. Off the bat, it nearly looked like it had the legs to get out on the fly.
Pinkney, who already had two hits on the night, worked another quality plate appearance. He eventually hit one hard on a line to center, but it was caught and he had to settle for a sacrifice fly that cut the deficit to 4-3.
Still, Doran Park was rocking. Nu’u Contrades came up to pinch-hit for Harrelson. He fouled several off pitches before grounding one deep in the hole at third base, nearly beating it out but losing the race by less than a step. The large contingent of Orleans fans erupted in glee while the Braves decompressed by their own dugout.
As deflating as a loss like that might be, they still have an opportunity to win on Sunday. They can still run it back.
It all comes down to a singular game. After 51 contests between the regular season and playoffs, the Cape Cod Baseball League champion will be decided by a down-to-the-wire, winner-take-all Game 3.
The action will commence at 6:30 p.m. at Eldredge Park.
“We’ll be fine. We have to win one game, just like it was today,” Landers said. “We didn’t do it today, so we gotta do it tomorrow.”