By Mojo Hill
The Bourne Braves didn’t cast any doubt on whether their season was going to continue.
Facing elimination at Doran Park, they pummeled the Hyannis Harbor Hawks for a nine-run first inning and a 13-3 victory on Wednesday. It evened up the West finals, sending the series to a winner-take-all Game 3 at McKeon Park.
“It’s fun when we can string hits like that together. It’s a good time,” Bourne manager Scott Landers said. “We just gotta come back tomorrow and do the same thing.”
The Braves’ nine-run onslaught began with the first five batters reaching. Jonathan Vastine and Josh Kuroda-Grauer walked, and Bourne received singles from Kendall Diggs, Bryce Eblin and Derek Bender. Eblin extended his hitting streak to 19 with the knock. Bender, meanwhile, batted out of the five-hole for the first time this year and thrived.
“We were gonna drop him a little lower,” Landers said. “But he was due, and he got a couple big hits early. So we just gotta have him build on that and keep going.”
Hugh Pinkney hit a sacrifice fly for the second out, making it 4-0. But the Braves didn’t stop there. After Pete Ciuffreda drew a walk out of the nine-hole, it went back to the top of the order in Vastine. The Vanderbilt shortstop slapped a two-run single, knocking starter Mason Nichols out of the game.
“He didn’t command very well to start,” Landers said of Nichols. “He didn’t throw strikes. We got on him.”
Bourne tacked on some extra damage against reliever Tony Robie. Josh Kuroda-Grauer hit a hustle double, and Diggs recorded his second hit of the inning. The game was a 9-0 laugher before the majority of the Harbor Hawks’ lineup had even come up to bat yet.
“It seemed like [Nichols] was struggling to find it a little bit early,” said Diggs, who plays in the SEC along with Nichols. “I remember back at school, I was telling him he loves spinning it. He loves throwing that slider. And he plays his fastball for that. It didn’t seem like he could find the fastball, so it was hard for him to play that slider off of it. We just took advantage of it, got in some advantage counts and did some damage.”
The party continued with back-to-back bombs from Bender and Garrett Michel in the second inning. It was Michel’s third homer of the postseason and team-leading seventh overall on the summer.
“He’s really taken to the adjustments that we made with him,” Landers said. “And now he’s swinging a hot bat. So hopefully it keeps going.”
Pinkney kept the inning alive with a walk, then advanced to second on a passed ball and scored on Vastine’s second single and third time on base. In fact, the top three hitters in the Braves’ lineup reached in their first nine combined plate appearances, all in the span of the first two innings. And not only did all nine starters reach, but all nine scored in the first two innings as well. Kuroda-Grauer drew his second walk, and Diggs recorded his third hit of the game to make it a whopping 13-0 game.
“It kinda felt like Little League when you’re about to run-rule a team,” Diggs said. “It’s going really well; everyone’s swinging it; everyone’s doing well, having fun. It was a really good vibe in the dugout.”
Diggs said it’s the first time he can remember having three hits in the first two innings of a game.
Bourne starting pitcher Nolan Sparks became almost an afterthought despite coming into the game as the biggest story. The DIII right-hander threw one inning for the Braves last year, and returned for his first start with the club this summer. He labored slightly, allowing multiple runners in each of the first three innings but keeping Hyannis off the board nonetheless. He didn’t strike anyone out until the fourth, when he punched out back-to-back hitters. Those were also the first two strikeouts of the game for either side.
“The mentality of ‘just keep grinding,'” Sparks said. “It was tough those first two innings. It was like, sitting on the bench for like an hour. My body got cold, had to keep it loose and everything. It was a real battle, so just grinding through it…. Trying to almost stay mad as a motivator in order to pitch.”
Sparks came out of the game after walking two in the fifth. He gave up four hits, five walks and a hit batter in 4 1/3 innings. Anthony Figueroa induced a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning, keeping the shutout intact.
“He came out with good stuff,” Landers said of Sparks. “He’s been starting in the NECBL, so we knew what we had with him coming in, and he’s been seasoned. So we just needed him to throw strikes and play defense behind him, and he did that.”
Figueroa walked two more in the sixth, running Bourne’s free pass total up to eight. He still managed to throw 2 2/3 hitless innings to churn a slow-paced game towards its endpoint.
Jack Sullivan entered and had more control issues in the eighth. He walked three in a four-battter span, including eight consecutive balls to force in the first Hyannis run of the night. The Harbor Hawks scored two more on a single off Kuroda-Grauer’s glove, but a 5-3 double play brought the frame to an end.
“We’re late in the season now. They need to know that they have to throw strikes,” Landers said. “We gotta play defense behind them. But we’ll be all set with that.”
Max LeBlanc locked down the final three outs, with a pair of punchouts in the process.
The Braves will now head back to McKeon Park for a winner-take-all Game 3 at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
“When the lights go on, superstars have to step up, and they did it tonight,” Landers said. “We gotta do it again tomorrow.”