By Brendan Nordstrom
Last night, Owen Carapellotti hit a home run in the ninth inning.
Unfortunately, it was just a water bottle on a forest fire as the Firebirds lost 15-5. After the game, Carapellotti said he wishes it was in “a bigger spot or a closer game.”
So, he played the home run over and over in his head with one twist — it was in a much bigger spot. It’s a tool called visualization, which is something Orleans mental performance coordinator Jay Banfield has worked on with the team.
“It’s putting yourself in positions that you’re likely to encounter,” Banfield said. "How do you build confidence so that when situations arise so you feel like you’ve been there?"
The game was knotted up at three with one out in the bottom of the seventh — the final inning in game two of the doubleheader. Eddie Micheletti Jr. took a one-out pitch to the right field corner for a clutch double. Pinch runner Jake Casey then advanced to third on an error by the Chatham second baseman.
This brought up Carapellotti.
“The stuff that [Banfield] does really works,” Carapellotti said. “When you get up there for the real thing, it’s like you’ve been there before. I just thought I could get it done.”
Carapellotti sat on the 2-2 pitch. It may not have been the home run that’s been looping through his head, but it was just as effective — a fly ball to left field deep enough to score Casey.
“That’s the first walk-off I’ve had in a long time so it felt good just to get a job done,” Carapellotti said. “I felt like my at-bats kept getting better as the game went on … just glad that I was able to pull something at the end.”
The walk-off is the Firebirds (17-16) third of the season, winning 4-3 in front of the home crowd on Friday evening. It could not have happened at a better time as Orleans was on the heels of two devastating losses and was at risk of a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Chatham Anglers.
“Huge team win,” Micheletti said. “We really needed that, especially with our championship hopes.”
Second baseman Jo Oyama led off the game doing Oyama things — a double off the left-field wall. However, Chatham starting pitcher Maxx Yehl struck out back-to-back Firebirds, earning a groundout to end the early threat.
A double play in the second stopped any further momentum before Oyama stepped back up to the plate for his second home run of both the season and the day.
“Oh my god, he’s such a star. He likes to spark for us,” Micheletti said. “We cannot win without him, so it’s huge.”
On the other side, the Firebirds put their flamethrower Greyson Carter on the mound to start the seven-inning contest. Carter, who has not allowed an earned run yet this summer, somehow looked even better than usual.
Prior to today’s contest, Carter had maxed out at a two-inning outing. However, he stretched 3.1 innings, pitching with conviction. Carter, who struck out a season-high six batters in his outing, found success by powering his high 90s fastball and mixing the off-speed successfully.
“I just love the way he was competing and approaching the outing,” Banfield said. “There’s just intensity and fire that I really enjoyed watching.”
The Vanderbilt righty ran into trouble in the fourth when he walked back-to-back batters with one out. Manager Kelly Nicholson took no chances, putting in sidearm right-handed pitcher Chase Hungate.
Hungate, who has worked out of similar jams this season, earned a ground ball to Jack Penney for the second out as a strikeout ended the threat.
“Playing super fast in the field, being super athletic, everyone making the aggressive plays,” Micheletti said, “that’s what helped us help our pitchers today.”
The Anglers, who had not recorded a hit in the contest, recorded a single through the left side to start the fifth inning. Then, Kaeden Kent hammered a ball deep over the right-field wall to take the lead in dramatic fashion.
Oyama helped pick the team back up, leading off the fifth inning with a double down the left-field line — his third extra-base hit of the game. He advanced on a wild pitch and Justin Rubin walked, but the offense once again faltered — or so it seemed.
With two strikes on Micheletti, he laced a single through the four-hole, scoring two runs and taking a 3-2 lead.
It was Micheletti’s third hit in three plate appearances, and he credited Oyama. The two developed a saying: “Slow like Jo.”
“I’m just trying to be super slow and super calm in the box,” Micheletti said. “I wasn’t really worried about what happened, I just wanted to be slow.”
The cellar-dwelling Anglers weren’t going down that easily, punching back with the game-tying tally in the sixth inning. Kyson Donahue led off the inning with a single, advancing on an error and a sacrifice bunt. Donahue scored thanks to Zach MacDonald’s RBI single.
The Firebirds put together a two-out rally in their half of the sixth, loading the bases. But for the second time in the game, Orleans scratched no runs across.
“I just felt like we kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Carapellotti said. “We have to be better. We could’ve killed them today, but in the long run, it doesn’t matter. We got the win.”
It’s a mistake Orleans wouldn’t make again. Carapellotti’s sacrifice walk-off fly ball gave the Firebirds a much-needed win heading into the All-Star Break.
“Carrying a win into an off day is big. You tend to reflect on the past,” Carapellotti said. “So ending on a positive note is huge for us.”