By Jack Loder
Something is afoot with the Orleans Firebirds as the calendar turns to August. A team that struggled to score all summer and struggled to defend at a high level for much of it has suddenly turned over a new leaf.
Orleans scored a single run in the second, third and sixth innings on its way to a 3-0 victory over league leading Hyannis. The Firebirds have won four of five games, and three have come against the two first place teams on the Cape. The Firebirds are playing their best ball of the summer, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
“I wouldn’t say we’re peaking, but we’re definitely playing really good ball right now,” Jack Bulger said. “The vibe with this tram is really great, everyone loves being around each other. We’re just trying to extend the summer.”
Saturday night’s victory was a big step towards doing just that. In a crowded Eastern division standings, Orleans is battling Harwich and Chatham for the third and fourth spots in the division. The one team that finishes fifth will miss out on the tournament all together. They’re trying not to scoreboard watch, but Nicholson acknowledged the obvious following Friday night’s win over Y-D.
“If we take care of our business we’ll be in, we know that much,” Nicholson said. “But yes, of course we’re hoping Chatham loses. And of course they’re hoping we lose, that’s just how it goes.”
It was Ben Shields taking the spotlight on the mound for Orleans on Saturday night. The George Mason left hander continued his recent dominance with six shutout innings, fanning six Harbor Hawks while surrendering just four hits. Shields breezed through the first three innings of the ballgame while facing the minimum.
Shields was followed by a trio of relievers who took after him like pupils mimicking a talented mentor. Ryan Rissas, Cole Stallings and Ryan Bourrassa each contributed to the shutout. Hyannis was able to put traffic on the bases, but each Orleans bullpen arm was able to wriggle out of trouble to preserve the shutout.
The first two runs of the ballgame were each scored on 6-4-3 double plays. While JD Urso and Garret Guillemette didn’t earn RBIs, they were still productive enough to plate the runs. Earlier in the summer, the Firebirds would have found a way to squander those scoring opportunities all together.
Looking ahead, the Birds host Brewster on Sunday night at 7 p.m. The late start is due to the game being broadcast on NESN. A win over the Whitecaps could clinch a playoff spot for Orleans.