By Greg Joyce
It was more of the same for Orleans on Sunday night, and considering the way they are playing as of late, that is a very good thing. With strong starting pitching, no errors, and at least one hit from every batter in the starting lineup, the Firebirds enjoyed a 7-3 win over the Brewster Whitecaps in front of 2,718 at Eldredge Park.
Once again, Matt Duffy (Long Beach State) and Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) led the way for the Firebirds, as Duffy recorded three hits and Waldrip had two singles with two RBI. Anthony Gomez (Vanderbilt) and Jayce Boyd (Florida State) also racked up two hits apiece in the win.
Mike Hauschild (Dayton) got the start for Orleans, and he turned in yet another impressive performance. Hauschild let up just two runs, one in the third and another in the fifth, but was otherwise flawless. He recorded his third win of the summer, and finished with five strikeouts and no walks.
“It really helps,” field manager Kelly Nicholson said of getting six strong innings from your starter. “I’m stating the obvious, but it really helps our ballclub for your starter to go out and give you six solid innings and two runs or less. It’s a good recipe for a great result.”
Down 1-0 in the fourth, the Firebirds had the heart of their lineup coming up and they came through to get the lead. Gomez led off the inning with a single to right field, which was followed by a single from Duffy to put runners on the corners with one out. Waldrip came up and slapped a single to left-center field, scoring Gomez to tie the game at one.
The next batter was Reed Gragnani (Virginia), and he grounded into a double play, but it allowed Duffy to score as the Firebirds took the 2-1 lead.
The Whitecaps responded with a run in the top of the fifth inning, but Orleans was quick to battle back and took the lead for good in the next half inning.
Boyd began the fifth with a long double off the left field fence that nearly went for a home run. Then, Andrew Aplin (Arizona State) connected on a pitch for a double of his own that plated Boyd to make it 3-2 Orleans.
Gomez moved over Aplin with a sacrifice bunt, which proved important when Duffy followed with a RBI single to bring home Aplin. Gragnani added a ground rule double to right before Brewster finally got out of the inning.
Orleans wasn’t done scoring though, as they padded their lead in the next inning. With one out, Maxx Tissenbaum (Stony Brook) got the sweet spot of the bat on the ball for a double into the gap in right. Boyd drove him home on the next play with a single to left field.
Then with two outs, Boyd stole second base, which was important when Gomez hit a single up the middle, as Boyd came in to score on the play.
On his third hit of the night, Duffy moved Gomez to third on an infield single just over the first baseman’s head. That set up Waldrip for another RBI, as he hit a single through the hole on the left side, scoring Gomez and making it a 7-3 Orleans lead.
With Tarran Senay (NC State) recording a double, his fourth straight game with an extra-base hit, and Ronnie Shaeffer (UC Irvine) hitting an infield single, all starters for the Firebirds got into the hit column.
“It’s great,” Nicholson said of all nine getting a hit. “It’s nice to see these guys playing well at the right time. We still have a lot of baseball left to play. But it’s good to see these guys playing well and having fun and enjoying being out here.”
Kurt Heyer (Arizona) continued to be dominant out of the bullpen, as he threw two innings of scoreless relief with four K’s for Orleans.
“[Heyer]’s in a really good role for this team right now,” Nicholson said.
In the ninth, Nicholson handed the ball to Trevor Gott (Kentucky), whom he called “arguably the best closer on the Cape.” Although it was a non-save situation, Gott closed out the game, giving up a harmless run before recording the final out.
The win put the Firebirds back in a tie for first with Harwich, adding an extra importance to the final two games of the season that remain. Orleans controls its own destiny, and two wins over Chatham will give them home field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and the Eastern Division title.
“We’d really like to win the division,” Nicholson said. “We’re in a good spot to do that. I think we control our own destiny, and yeah we’d like to be the Eastern Division Champions, just like Harwich would. I think this organization takes some pride in that. I know I do.”
With just two games remaining before the playoffs, the Firebirds just need to do one thing: keep playing more of the same baseball. Winners in nine of their last ten games, they are playing their best baseball as of late. Just at the right time.