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Bird Flu: Offense under the weather again in shutout loss

By Jack Loder

If this were spring ball in a real collegiate baseball season, Kelly Nicholson would be making major changes to his lineup. The continued lack of hitting, specifically clutch hitting, would be a reason to panic. But this is summer ball, even if it is the Cape Cod league. Winning while showcasing players is the objective, and the Firebirds will continue to do the latter, while hoping that leads to more of the former.

If sportsbooks put odds on Cape Cod league baseball, my advice would be to absolutely hammer the under. It feels like I’ve written similar game stories all summer long, with great pitching and spotty at best hitting leading the way for most of the Firebirds’ contests.

Wednesday night was no different. Orleans played its second 1-0 game of the week, this time on the losing end, falling by the painful margin at Spillaine Field in Wareham under a partly cloudy twilight sky.

“We gotta score runs to win. It’s really simple,” Nicholson said. “We didn’t execute offensively. I like our lineup I really liked our lineup tonight, things might look a little different but nothing drastic.”

The difference was the home half of the eighth, when Wareham plated the game’s only run on an RBI single by Ryan Campos. Wyatt Loncar surrendered the run and subsequently took the loss, laboring through an inning that saw the Gatemen put together quality at bat after quality at bat. Loncar had some of his best stuff of the summer in the losing effort, believe it or not. His fastball was firm and his change up was the best it has been in a Firebird uniform, if one or two pitches go differently his relief outing would have been air tight.

“I thought Wyatt actually threw the ball really well tonight, his stuff was definitely sharp,” catcher Connor Burns said. “Sometimes good hitting beats good pitching.”

There wasn’t much good hitting going on in the top half of innings in Wareham Wednesday night. The Birds rarely threatened to score throughout the first seven innings, before putting together a promising rally in the top half of the eighth.

A leadoff double from Isaac Humphrey was followed by an Austin Knight walk, setting up a first and second nobody out situation that clearly called for a sacrifice bunt. Nicholson called for that bunt, but Logan Beard failed to get it down. He struck out after a pair of unsuccessful attempts, a disappointing act that was then replicated by Connor Burns and Travis Honeyman.

“I don’t think there will be physical adjustments but I think we have to look at adjusting from a mental perspective,” Burns said. “It’s not just a one person game, I would say it’s important to be in the moment and be invested in each situation.”

Both Burns and Beard strongly objected to the third strike in their looking strikeouts. Nicholson put the responsibility on his players to execute, while acknowledging the umpires aren’t always perfect.

“You have to be able to get sacrifice bunts down. In this league you absolutely have to be able to do that,” Nicholson said. “Umps will miss some calls but for the most part they were good tonight. Seeing Connor object to a call does tell you something, though. If he thinks the ball is out of the strike zone it’s probably out of the strike zone.”

On the positive side, you guessed it. Pitching. Bryce Warrecker continued his incredible summer with 4.2 shutout innings to start the ballgame. He was relieved by Ryan Reeser who turned in his best relief outing of the summer, before Cole Stallings got back in the swing of things with a shutout seventh inning. Stallings had been dealing with some dead arm, losing velocity but not feeling any pain. He was certainly improved tonight.

Orleans will look to wake up the bats on Thursday as they host Falmouth at 6:30 pm.

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