By Mojo Hill
The magic ran out Monday night — at least for now.
The Bourne Braves’ season-long five-game winning streak came to an end in Game 1 of the West finals, as they fell 9-6 to the Hyannis Harbor Hawks at McKeon Park. The Braves swatted three long balls early on, but the fifth inning got away from them and jolted Hyannis ahead. The loss sends them back to Doran Park facing elimination.
“We came out well. We had a bad inning in the fifth,” Braves manager Scott Landers said. “They took the momentum. We just couldn’t take it back. Their bullpen did a great job holding them where they needed to be held, and we just couldn’t get it done.”
Monday’s game featured two key momentum shifts that Landers alluded to. The Harbor Hawks struck for an initial run, which was followed by four unanswered runs from Bourne and seven unanswered from the Harbor Hawks. When the dust settled, it was Hyannis that reigned supreme.
Tristan Smith made his first start of the postseason for Bourne, fresh off winning Pitcher of the Week. He entered with just four runs allowed in 23 innings since joining the club.
Hyannis put two in scoring position with nobody out in the second inning, with Landers getting increasingly chirpy with the umpire’s strike zone. Smith induced a popup for the first out. After he fell behind 2-0 on the next batter, Landers paid him a visit. The Harbor Hawks got one on the board with a grounder to short, but Jonathan Vastine made a heads-up play to nab a fielder’s choice out at third.
Smith ended the frame with a called strikeout for the second straight inning, showing a knack for locating his fastball right on the edges.
And Smith’s resilience paid off in the moment. Pete Ciuffreda, back in the lineup after sitting the first two games out, blasted one 102 mph to right field for a towering game-tying home run in the top of the third. It was his second home run of the summer to complement his .400-plus OBP.
Two batters later, Ciuffreda’s Rutgers teammate Josh Kuroda-Grauer slammed his second home run of the postseason, a two-run shot to put Bourne up 3-1. Kuroda-Grauer slumped near the end of the regular season, but has completely flipped it around since entering playoff play. He’s begun to lift the ball more, and it’s made a world of difference. Vastine scored on the shot, stepping on home plate with a wide smile warped around his face.
“We need everybody for the next two games,” Landers said when asked about the Rutgers boys’ resurgence. “It’s gotta start tomorrow, but we’ll see. We’ll need ’em all.”
Garrett Michel added another bomb an inning later. It was his team-leading sixth homer to give the Braves a 4-1 lead, and the first time they’ve hit three in a game this year.
Hyannis rallied for three straight two-out baserunners in the fourth. Eric Snow drove in his second run with an RBI single, cutting Bourne’s lead to two. Smith ended the inning with his fifth strikeout.
The Braves tacked on one more in the fifth. Ciuffreda stayed hot with a full-count walk, then stole second, moved to third on a wild throw by the catcher and scored on a Vastine sacrifice fly to bring the lead back to three. The Braves were flying high.
But it all spiraled downhill from there.
Smith permitted his fourth walk, then an RBI double to Hyannis’s best hitter, Cam Smith. Brandon Eike drove in the tying runs with a two-run single, knotting it up at five apiece. That ended Smith’s day after 4 1/3 innings.
“He just didn’t have command tonight,” Landers said. “He was losing balls arm-side, and just wasn’t himself tonight.”
Left-hander Justin Lovell entered and surrendered a go-ahead two-run homer. It was a five-spot for Hyannis to flip the script, soaring the Harbor Hawks to a lead they would never fumble.
Then in the sixth, Sam Petersen and Ciuffreda lost a ball in the lights that fell for a double. Jon Jon Gazdar followed with an RBI single to make it an 8-5 Hyannis lead.
Mason Manriquez allowed one in the seventh on three straight hits, despite an impressive throw from Kendall Diggs in right field to throw out a runner trying to go first-to-third. It ran the deficit all the way up to four.
The Braves got one back in the eighth on a Petersen two-out RBI single, driving in Derek Bender after his leadoff double. They put two runners on in the ninth, including Bryce Eblin’s fourth single of the game, but a hard lineout to center from Diggs brought the game to its final stoppage point.
Bourne will now return to Doran Park on Tuesday for potentially its final home game of the summer. A loss would end the Braves’ season, while a win would send them back to McKeon Park for a win-or-go-home matchup on Wednesday. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. as usual.
“We’re gonna show up. They’re gonna have to beat us,” Landers said. “We’re gonna play our butts off until the game’s over. Hopefully we’re on the winning side, and we move on to the next step.”