Awards Handed Out On Wednesday Night

By Greg Joyce

Prior to Wednesday night’s regular season home finale against Chatham, the Orleans Firebirds organization handed out their annual awards, citing eight players who went above and beyond expectations throughout the season.

The Charles F. Moore, Sr. Award for the team’s most valuable player went to Matt Duffy (Long Beach State), who was outstanding for the Firebirds all season long. Coming in as a temp, Duffy filled in at shortstop, second base, and third base, displaying his versatility in the field. He also slid into the three-spot in the lineup by the midpoint of the season, and finished the season as the team’s leading hitter, batting .346.

Duffy’s roommate and journey-mate, Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) shared the Charles F. Moore, Jr. Award with John Brebbia (Elon). The award cited Waldrip and Brebbia for their outstanding performance on and off the field. The young men have performed incredibly on the field for their team, and are two of the nicest players you will meet off the field as well.

Trevor Gott (Kentucky) was awarded with the Thomas Yankus Pitching Award for his performance on the mound. Gott finished the season 12-for-12 in save opportunities, with a 1.29 ERA. The All-Star’s cool demeanor and impressive poise on the hill earned him the relief pitcher of the year for the CCBL.

The next award was the Castleberry Coaches’ award, and it went to Reed Gragnani (Virginia) and Ronnie Shaeffer (UC Irvine). These two players did everything their coaches asked of them, and came to the field each and every day with great attitudes that their coaches were lucky to have.

Finally, the Harry Hossfeld Spirit Award was given to Andrew Aplin (Arizona State) and Anthony Gomez (Vanderbilt). These two players gave the Firebirds a much-needed spark when they arrived at the beginning of July, and their presence and energy could be felt in every game. Whether they were hitting, making spectacular defensive plays, or just getting guys excited in the dugout, Aplin and Gomez gave Orleans the jumpstart it needed to lock up the number one seed in the East.

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Game Two: Doubleheader Sweep Caps Off Amazing Finish

By Greg Joyce

They say you want to be playing your best baseball heading into the playoffs, and the Orleans Firebirds are certainly doing that. They capped off their 2011 regular season campaign with a 9-8 win over the Chatham Anglers at home in front of 3,458 at Eldredge Park, the second game of a day-night doubleheader.

The offense put on a show in the game after trailing early, and the bullpen held off a late surge by the Anglers in the latter innings, giving the Firebirds some good momentum as they begin the playoffs.

Down 1-0 in the second inning, Maxx Tissenbaum (Stony Brook) tied the game with one swing. He got a hold of a pitch and blasted it down the right field line for a monster home run, his second of the doubleheader.

Chatham took the 2-1 lead back in the next inning, but it didn’t take long for the Firebirds to erase that deficit. Matt Lowenstein (Loyola Marymount) drew a walk to begin the inning, and moved to third on a single to right field by Andrew Aplin (Arizona State). That brought up Anthony Gomez (Vanderbilt), who grounded into a double play but scored Lowenstein in the process, tying the game at two.

Then, the Firebirds took the lead for good in the fourth inning on the back two more long bombs. Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) started off the inning with a single, and one batter later, Tarran Senay (NC State) came up big. Joining Tissenbaum with two home runs on the day, Senay crushed a pitch into the bullpen in right field to give Orleans the 4-2 lead.

“Yeah that was cool,” field manager Kelly Nicholson said of Tissenbaum and Senay’s two-home run days. “They’re good hitters.”

But the Birds were not finished with the long ball. Three batters later and with two runners on base, Andrew Aplin (Arizona State) connected for a three-run bomb into the bullpen for the 7-2 edge.

“Big home run,” Nicholson said of Aplin’s shot. “[Tissenbaum, Senay, and Aplin] did a terrific job tonight.”

Orleans padded their lead in the fifth inning, when Rudy Flores (Florida International) walked with the bases loaded to score Matt Duffy (Long Beach State).

On the other side of things for the Firebirds, Jason Wheeler (Loyola Marymount) got out of some tough jams and pitched a gutsy five innings to earn the win. He allowed just two runs in his start, and got through difficult innings unscathed to hold the lead.

In the sixth inning, Aplin banged a double to the gap in right to lead off, and eventually crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly from Duffy that made it 9-2.

From that point on, the Anglers scored six unanswered runs off the Orleans bullpen, but Trevor Gott (Kentucky) came into the game in the ninth inning and shut the door for his 12th save of the season.

The win in the nightcap was just the icing on the cake after the Firebirds had clinched the division earlier in the day at Chatham.

Said Nicholson,“I’m really, really proud of what we accomplished, but as I told them at the end, I’m really proud of how they accomplished it: with professionalism, class, poise, and I thought they did a very nice job.”

After an amazing turnaround from Orleans to go from fourth place to first place in just two weeks, Nicholson reflected on what makes this team stand out from others.

“Just that they’ve competed all summer,” he said. “Even games that we lost early in the summer, those guys would compete right down to the final at bat. Once we got Aplin here, once we got Gomez here, those guys are high-energy guys. They provide good energy. And it’s exactly what this club needed. We just started playing well at the right time.”

Now that the regular season has finally wrapped up, the skipper can begin preparing for the difficult road that lies ahead.

“We’ve got our hands full with Y-D,” he said. “We would like to think that Y-D has their hands full with us. But there’s a lot of baseball to be played. We could be here 10 or 12 more days, which is the goal. You’re in it now, man. Whoever gets to six wins first gets a ring. It’s gonna be fun.”

Aplin Saves The Day, Firebirds Sweep Doubleheader

By Greg Joyce

It was a catch that most will never forget that they saw on Friday night at Whitehouse Field. Not only did Andrew Aplin (Arizona State) make a highlight reel catch, but he also prevented a walk-off home run, and provided the offense in the Orleans Firebirds’ 4-3 win, the second victory in their sweep of the Harwich Mariners.

With a man on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh (the last inning of regulation in a doubleheader game), the Harwich batter sent a deep fly ball to right field. Aplin ran back to the fence, kept his eye on the ball, leaped at the fence and caught the ball, before flipping over the fence in full sprawl. Aplin got back on his feet to show the umpire he had caught the ball, as his teammates ran out to right field to celebrate the game-winning catch.

“When I went up, I just kept tracking it and I wasn’t gonna stop until I got it,” Aplin said. “I just saw the fence out of the corner of my eye and figured I would give it a shot.”

Aplin sacrificed his body at full speed, but saved the game and drew the praises of his teammates and coaches alike after the game.

“That’s one of the best catches I’ve seen in my 11 summers up here,” field manager Kelly Nicholson said.

The runner who was on third had reached base only after Jake Stewart (Stanford) sacrificed his body as well, running full-speed into the fence in center field before the ball was knocked out of his glove from the blow from the fence.

“I think it says a lot about our team, and I told them after the game, that Jake Stewart sacrifices his body in the second game of a doubleheader when it’s really, really hot and really, really humid, and then Aplin does exactly the same thing,” Nicholson said. “Those two guys are gamers.”

Aplin came up big earlier in the game as well, this time from the batter’s box. With his team down 2-1 in the fifth inning, Aplin connected on a pitch and shot it over the right field fence for a three-run bomb.

“I was swinging it pretty good all day, and he just threw a fastball and hung it across the plate a little bit and I put good wood on it,” Aplin said.

“Big, big home run,” Nicholson said. “Ap’s a gamer. It’s a shame he didn’t make the All-Star team. He deserves it. We could only take four outfielders. He’s as deserving as anyone on that team.”

Pat Butler (UConn) started the game for Orleans, and did exactly what he was asked to do by the coaching staff.

“Who I was really proud of in game 2 was Pat Butler,” Nicholson said. “He did exactly what he hoped that he would do. He gave us two and two-thirds, he gave up a run and kept us in the game.”

After Butler, Kyle Ottoson (Arizona State) made his first appearance of the summer and earned the win after throwing two innings and allowing two runs. He was relieved by Kenny Long (Illinois State), who finished the fifth inning.

Trevor Gott (Kentucky) worked the last two innings for the Firebirds, getting a key strikeout in the seventh before Aplin’s amazing catch.

“Gott was Gott; he did a nice job,” Nicholson said.

The Firebirds scored their first run of the game in the fifth inning, when Jayce Boyd (Florida State), Stewart, and Maxx Tissenbaum (Stony Brook) recorded consecutive singles. Boyd came in to score on a throwing error after a flyout.

Game One

In the first game of the twin bill, Orleans used Jason Wheeler’s (Loyola Marymount) best start of the summer and some timely hitting to record the 3-1 win.

Wheeler threw 5.2 innings of one-run baseball, allowing four hits, one walk, striking out two, and recording the win.

“I think it probably was his best start of the year,” Nicholson said. “He survived the heat, the humidity, and he did an outstanding job tonight.”

The Firebirds got on the board first in the second inning. Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) led off with a single up the middle, followed by a walk from Steve Selsky (Arizona). After the next two batters were retired in order, Reed Gragnani (Virginia) came through with a double to the left field fence, scoring both runners.

In the next inning, Aplin led off with a stand-up triple to right field, his second extra base hit of the game. He was able to score on a wild pitch, giving the Firebirds the 3-0 lead.

Kurt Heyer (Arizona) relieved Wheeler and went the last one and a third innings to preserve the 3-1 win in his first save of the year.

A sweep of any doubleheader in the Cape League is difficult enough, but given the extreme heat and humidity, and the close standings atop the East Division, this one was extremely rewarding. The wins put Orleans back at the .500 mark, and got them within three points of first place.

“Huge,” Nicholson said of the sweep. “Hey, every game on the Cape is tough, every team is really good. But doubleheaders are hard to win, especially on the road. To come up and beat Harwich on the road…they’re a very good ballclub. You have to give our guys a lot of credit, they did an outstanding job today.”