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.

Hauschild and Gragnani Continue Team’s Hot-Streak

By Greg Joyce

What a difference one week can make. Just last Sunday, the Orleans Firebirds were in the midst of an 8-game stretch in which they had won just two games. But now after Sunday night’s 5-3 victory over the Brewster Whitecaps, the Firebirds have won five straight and are clicking on all cylinders.

The pitching, defense, and offense have been showing up consistently and on the same nights during the win-streak, but it all begins with the starting pitching, and the Firebirds received a fine start on Sunday night.

Mike Hauschild (Dayton) turned in an impressive performance on the hill for Orleans, throwing five strong innings of scoreless baseball. The first nine outs he recorded came via the ground ball, making for an easy first three innings for Hauschild. He then allowed two runners in both the fourth and fifth innings, but got himself out of the jams nicely.

“It all starts with starting pitching, and any time you can get your starter to go five scoreless, you’re off to a good start,” field manager Kelly Nicholson said. “Haus did a good job.”

Hauschild was backed up with some nice run support from his teammates right from the start, as the Firebirds scored a run in each of the first two innings.

Andrew Aplin (Arizona State) led off the game with a walk, which was followed by a single from Anthony Gomez (Vanderbilt). Two outs later, Steve Selsky (Arizona) came up with a big RBI single to score Aplin and give Orleans the early 1-0 lead.

With one out in the second inning, Reed Gragnani (Virginia) started off his hot-hitting night with a single down the first base line. He then stole second base during the next at bat, and came around to score when Gomez slapped another single to right field.

Gragnani recorded his third hit of the night in the sixth inning with two outs and two on, and it brought home Matt Koch (Loyola Marymount) for the 3-0 lead.

The Whitecaps cut into the lead in the seventh inning, scoring two runs against Kyle Ottoson (Arizona State), but the Firebird offense was quick to make it a 3-run game again.

Selsky walked to begin the eighth, and he moved to third on a single by Koch and an error on the centerfielder. Jake Stewart (Stanford) came up next and hit a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Selsky.

That set the stage for Gragnani’s fourth hit and second RBI of the night, when he singled in Koch to give the Firebirds the 5-2 lead.

“He’s just a really, really good baseball player,” Nicholson said of Gragnani. “He defends, he hits, he stole [two] bases today. It was good to see him get four hits tonight.”

Meanwhile, Kurt Heyer (Arizona) was handling the pitching duties for Orleans, making another successful appearance out of the bullpen. He threw 1.2 innings, allowed one hit, no runs, and struck out three. Heyer continues to be a spark and a force out of the bullpen for the Firebirds, an important and valuable asset for the coaching staff to have.

Trevor Gott (Kentucky) came into the game in the ninth and did allow a run, but other than that he was dominant again, recording his league-leading 10th save.

There are still some things that Nicholson would like to improve upon going forward, but given where his team was just a week ago, he has to be pleased with what he is seeing.

“You’re gonna have to weather the storm a little bit when things go a little rough for you, but you also know that somewhere along the summer, you’re gonna have a run,” he said. “We happened to get ours at a pretty good time, and we seem to be playing pretty well. We could have played better today, we made some mistakes and got away with the result. But it’s nice to see this team get on a little run.”

Offense Back, But Pitching Roughed Up In Loss

By Greg Joyce

Different story, same result. The Orleans offense came alive on Monday night in Yarmouth-Dennis for the first time in three games, but this time it was the pitching that hurt the Firebirds, as they were handed their third straight defeat, 15-8. It looked good early for Orleans with a 3-1 lead in the third, but that lead only lasted for a matter of minutes, and it was downhill after that.

It only took the first inning for the Firebirds to top their hit total from Sunday night, as they used three hits to take the early lead. With one out, Anthony Gomez (Vanderbilt) slapped a line drive to center field to get things going. He moved over to second on a balk by the pitcher, and got to third on a single to left field by Jayce Boyd (Florida State).

With runners on the corners, Y-D’s starter Joey DeNato (Indiana) tried to pick off Boyd at first. On a heads up play, Gomez broke for home once DeNato threw to first, and crossed the plate before the throw finally came to the catcher. Boyd advanced to second on the play at home, as Gomez made it 1-0 Orleans.

The next batter was Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State), who lined a pitch to right field for another single, with Boyd holding at third base. There was a passed ball during the next at bat, and Boyd came home to notch the score at 2-0.

Orleans’ starter Mike Hauschild (Dayton) allowed a run in the bottom of the first, but got out of any further trouble in his first two innings to keep the 2-1 lead heading into the third.

Waldrip tacked a run on to the lead in the third inning in a big way, blasting his league-leading sixth home run of the year over the right field fence.

But that was the last time the Firebirds would lead on the night, as the Red Sox quickly took hold of it in the bottom of the inning. Y-D exploded for six runs off Hauschild, sending 11 batters to the plate before Tyler Gebler (Rutgers) finally got Orleans out of the inning. But at the end of three, the Red Sox held a 7-3 lead, and never looked back.

The Firebirds chipped away at the lead in the fourth, when Matt Koch (Loyola Marymount) reached with a double and ended up scoring on a groundout by Matt Lowenstein (Loyola Marymount).

In the bottom of the fifth, though, the Red Sox nearly batted around again, and tacked on five more runs off the Firebirds pitching staff. Three runs were charged to Gebler, while the other two were allowed by Pat Butler (UConn).

Facing a 12-4 deficit in the seventh inning, Orleans added two runs thanks to the bat of Reed Gragnani (Virginia). After Lowenstein singled to center, Gragnani got a hold of a pitch for a two-run home run, his first of the season.

“I thought [Gragnani] looked really good at the plate tonight,” Nicholson said.

Still not done with the scoring, the Red Sox put up a three-spot in the bottom of the eighth when Brian Johnson (Florida) homered off Nick Mutz (Western Oklahoma).

Trailing by nine in the ninth, the Firebirds didn’t give up, as Gragnani led off the inning with a double, his second hit of the day. Andrew Aplin (Arizona State) followed with a double of his own, scoring Gragnani. He moved to third on a passed ball, and scored on a groundout from Gomez.

“I told them after the game I loved the way they competed all the way down to the final at bat,” Nicholson said. “As long as we continue to compete like that, we’re gonna get good results.”

But it was too little, too late for Orleans, as they couldn’t sustain the rally, and ended up dropping the game 15-8.

Waldrip continued to be a force for this ballclub, as he put up three hits on the night including his bomb.

“He’s shown why he’s a draft pick,” Nicholson said. “He’s a solid hitter and he’s a hall of fame kid. You couldn’t be happier for him and good things to happen to good people.”

Though it was the third-straight defeat for the Firebirds, Nicholson still saw some bright spots from an offensive standpoint besides Gragnani and Waldrip.

“I thought Gomez looked good at the plate tonight,” Nicholson said. “Lowenstein looked better at the plate tonight. Those guys are starting to swing the bats better.

“Normally, seven or eight runs is going to win in this league, especially with our pitching staff. We’ll bounce back.”