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Explosive third inning and lockdown relief give Firebirds 6-4 victory

By Brendan Nordstrom

Bunting — It’s a fundamental of the game.

Manager Kelly Nicholson emphasized it on the first day of practice. He emphasized that it’s a “mentality.” A mentality that the bunt needs to be laid down “no matter what.”

Center fielder Austin Overn attempted to bunt in a safety squeeze scenario on Opening Day against Hyannis. Unfortunately, he popped out to the catcher. Today against the Bourne Braves, Overn stepped in with a runner on first and one out.

This time, he placed the ball perfectly down the left field line, advancing the runner and beating out the throw at first. This helped set off a chain of at-bats that would result in a crooked six runs for the Firebirds in the third inning.

“That’s who he is,” Nicholson said about Overn, who also doubled in the contest. “Stealing bases and bunting and hitting doubles.”

Those six runs would be all the Firebirds (2-1) needed to defeat the Braves 6-4 on Monday evening, keeping the reigning champions winless on the young season.

“Our offense obviously came alive tonight … and that’s a good team over there,” Nicholson said. “But this. This is who [the Firebirds] are.”

It was all Bourne to start the contest. Third baseman Cameron Foster led off the second inning with a single to right field, and he eventually broke the deadlock, scoring on a fielder’s choice.

The Braves tacked on a couple more runs in the third inning when center fielder Jackson Castillo took the first pitch of the at-bat over the right field fence. Not to be outdone, first baseman Garrett Michel launched the first pitch of his plate appearance down the left line, hooking over the fence for a 3-0 lead.

Yesterday, the Firebirds couldn’t climb out of a three-run hole, eventually falling to the Harwich Mariners 10-3. However, tonight was a different story.

The bottom of the third started with shortstop Andy Blake lining a ball into the left-center gap for a lead-off single. Overn laid down the bunt to set up first baseman Cam Jones. The Firebirds then executed a perfect hit-and-run as Blake scored and Overn ended on third.

Braves second baseman Kodey Shojinaga bobbled the ball to score Overn. Left fielder Jake Casey kept the fun going with an RBI single to right, tying the game at three. This put second baseman Johnny Olmstead at the plate with two on and two outs.

“I was coming up there looking for something up,” Olmstead said. “First pitch came, I saw a little slider up and put a good little swing on it, and it snuck out.”

Olmstead’s three-run homerun sounded like a no-doubter off the bat as it sailed more than 350 feet over the left field fence. The Firebirds batted through the order in the inning to take a 6-3 advantage.

The Braves fought back with a run in the fifth that was assisted by a Castillo lead-off single and a throwing error. That was it, however, as the Firebirds’ bullpen held up their end of the deal — especially lefty Derek Clark.

“Our pitchers shut it down,” Olmstead said. “I think they should take all the praise for tonight’s win.”

Clark entered the game midway through the fifth inning to shut down the Braves and continued to mow down batters in the three innings that followed, gaining confidence with each out.

“I thought I had all my stuff,” Clark said. “That’s how I’ve done my whole career in college, just confidence building throughout the whole game, and towards the end, I’m focused, tunnel vision.”

Clark finished the eighth inning with Firebirds closer Chris Clark warming up in the bullpen. However, when the ninth inning began, it was Derek Clark back on the bump. When asked what the plan was for Derek Clark coming into the game, Nicholson said: “The plan wasn’t that.”

Nicholson wasn’t planning on keeping his Northwood University reliever on the mound for that long, but Clark’s pitch count was low and it’s hard to argue with results.

In the ninth, Clark entered to face left-handed designated hitter Hugh Pinkney. However, the Braves opted for a right-handed pinch hitter in Joey Loynd. Nicholson still doesn’t regret the decision as Clark recorded the out to open the inning.

“We’ll take Derek Clark throwing the ball the way he’s going against a guy that’s coming off the bench in the ninth inning every day and twice on Sunday,” Nicholson said.

Clark ended the day with three hits to four strikeouts, no earned runs and no walks across 4.0 innings of work.

Chris Clark relieved Derek Clark and completed the game with an exclamation mark, catching the final two Braves looking to end the contest.

The Firebirds will look to keep up their winning ways back on the road tomorrow as they take on the Chatham Anglers at Veterans Field at 7:00 p.m.

“We’re gonna keep on playing our game,” Olmstead said. “At the end of the day, if we play our game, the scoreboard will say something good.”

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