By: Cole Bradley
CHATHAM, Mass- The Orleans Firebirds dominated their way to an Opening Day win over the Harwich Mariners at Eldredge Park 8-1.
The win set up an opportunity for the Birds to go 2-0 to start the summer for the first time since 2012, but they had to go through the Chatham Anglers at Veteran’s Field to make it happen on Monday night.
Both starters took an early hold on the game, working fast and getting quick outs, especially Chatham’s Austin Vernon (North Carolina Central), who struck out four and didn’t allow a hit through his three frames of work.
The dominance on the mound from the Anglers continued throughout, killing any hopes of a second consecutive win to start the season for the Birds, as the Anglers bested Orleans 6-3.
Max Rajcic (UCLA) also looked good, on a 45-pitch limit he went three innings allowing one hit while striking out four. He was followed up by his teammates Jack Philby (UCLA) and Jake Saum (UCLA) out of the bullpen.
“It’s been a while since I started a game, since high school,” Rajcic said. “It felt good to get back to the routine. I missed starting.”
Rajcic’s successors did not fare as well as him, as Philby gave up a solo home run to first baseman Caden Grice (Clemson) that almost cleared the lawn in right-center field. Saum got two quick outs in the fifth but lost control.
He loaded the bases after hitting a pair of batters and walking one before right fielder Lyle Miller-Green continued his torrid start at the plate with a bases-clearing double, the biggest hit of the night. The sixth and final run for the Anglers came in the bottom half of the eighth on a solo homer from Johnny Castagnozzi (UNC Chapel Hill).
After picking up the first run of the contest on an RBI groundout, Jace Jung (Texas Tech) followed up his productive at-bat with one of the more interesting plays ever to happen on a diamond. Jung blasted a ball over the left-center field fence that appeared to be caught by center fielder Jake DeLeo (Georgia Tech).
“I got to second and nobody was saying ‘home run’ so I just jogged off the field,” Jung said. “I was halfway back and they go ‘it was a home run.’”
Following a long meeting between the umpiring crew, the decision was made that Jung abandoned the baseline, and was therefore called out, making it the home run that wasn’t.
“You know, it’s baseball, I could’ve lost it,” Jung said. “It’s all about the next pitch and the next at-bat. I missed a couple times tonight but you’re gonna do that in baseball.”
Head coach Kelly Nicholson jawed at the officials in anger for the ensuing innings, Jung was credited with a double.
“That took a little wind out of our sails,” Nicholson said. “Anytime you lose a run in the Cape League it’s gonna hurt. Especially the way we lost it. But I guarantee he [Jung] won’t let that happen again.”
The Birds tried their best to get back in it, grabbing a pair of runs in the eighth, but they wasted a bases loaded opportunity with no outs and failed to score another run. Benjamin Blackwell (Dayton), Connor Kokx (Long Beach State), and Julio Marcano (NJIT) punched out in order, letting a golden chance brush by like the fog above the field lights.
“Anytime you get the bases loaded with nobody out, you’re gonna want to get that situation everyday and twice on Sunday,” Nicholson said. “It just didn’t work out for us tonight.”
Chatham right-hander Trevor Martin (Oklahoma State) came in to help keep Orleans scoreless in the eighth before shutting the door in the ninth. He had four strikeouts in 1.2 innings of work and picked up the save. All in, the Firebirds struckout 14 times on the night, a huge detriment in a close game.
The Firebirds will try to bounce back on Tuesday evening at Whitehouse Field in Harwich against the Mariners at 6:30.