By Jack Loder
Nothing fires up a dormant dugout quite like a clutch hit. Early in the summer, the Firebirds couldn’t come up with that clutch hit to save their lives. Lately, the big knock has come more and more often and it was exemplified perfectly in the sixth inning of Thursday night’s 6-4 victory in Brewster.
“I really loved the at bats we put together tonight. We were really smart at the plate all game long,” Kelly Nicholson said. “Good situational hitting and some really quality plate appearances against some really strong pitching.”
The win is the Firebirds second straight, and it’s one that gives fans and players alike hope for an impending hot streak. Orleans is a powder keg, they could blow up and rip off a win streak at any moment.
“I’m going to give you some coach speak here, we’re taking it game by game,” Nicholson said. “These guys are putting in really good work. Any results we have are a product of that work.”
Brewster starter Liam Simon brought electric stuff to his first start of the summer, but he wasn’t exactly fooling the bats at the top of the Firebirds batting order. Nate Furman ripped a one out single and scored when Luke Keaschall laced a single down the left field line a batter later. Even the outs were loud in the top of the first, as Travis Honeyman and Kevin Sim both lined out sharply. Orleans’ one run could have easily been a crooked number if not for some bad luck.
Orleans starter Ben Shields had big shoes to fill following the performance from the Firebird arms on Wednesday night. For the most part, he provided a good follow up act. The physically imposing George Mason left hander breezed through his first inning of work, striking out two on his way to retiring the side in order. A leadoff double set up a game tying two run frame for Brewster, but the way the runs came in was hardly Shields’ fault. With first and second and one out, Kevin Sim made a spectacular diving stop on a one hop shot down the third base line. Instead of opting to compete in a foot race for the out at third, Sim got up and fired off balance towards first. His throw was wide and low, getting by Luke Keaschall at first base, allowing the Whitecaps to score their first run of the evening. They drew even a batter later on a sac fly to deep right center.
“We did a great job being resilient tonight,” Nicholson added. “I was proud of Shields fighting through a bit of adversity to give us a great outing.”
With the Firebirds on top 5-4 through four and a half innings, Nicholson called on Ohio State RHP Wyatt Loncar to preserve the lead in the middle innings. Loncar showed good stuff, and perhaps more importantly, tremendous poise. He pitched around a pair of base hits in his first inning, and turned in two shutout frames to preserve the lead. Now a permanent bullpen arm, Loncar is dedicated to helping the team in any way he can out of the bullpen.
“He is completely invested in that new role, it’s been impressive to see,” Nicholson said. “Wyatt is a competitor, he’s a guy who will always put the team’s needs ahead of his own.”
The Firebirds are made up of players like this. When Brewster punched back Thursday night, Orleans reloaded again and again. The Firebirds squad that fell to Brewster 7-2 two weeks ago is now a much different team. It showed on Thursday.
“Everybody did something tonight,” Keaschall said. “Burns had a great bunt, Bulger was taking bags all day. I’m super proud of the way we’re playing right now.”