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.”

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