By: Cole Bradley
YARMOUTH, Mass- It’s been a tough first week to be a Firebird hitter.
Through the first four games, Orleans has hit a combined .213 with two home runs and a whopping 39 strikeouts. The struggles looked like they would continue against the Yarmouth-Dennis when Patt Gallagher (UConn) struck out the side in the second, carving right through the middle of the Orleans order.
That changed quickly, and after piecing together a three-run third, third baseman Tyler Locklear (VCU) came up with the bases loaded in the fifth and got the hit he and the Firebirds have been looking for.
“I had two bad at-bats to start, coach Jay pulled me aside and told me, ‘Just be yourself,’” Locklear said. “That’s kind of what I did, I just got a pitch I could handle and tried to put a barrel on it, and it went over the fence.”
On one swing Locklear sent the Birds dugout into a euphoric embrace as he deposited a ball over the right field wall for a grand slam, but the lack of run support from that point forward came back to bite them, as Y-D stole a win in walk off fashion by a final of 8-7.
The loss puts Orleans at 2-3, and while there aren’t normally any positives attached to losing, the Firebirds definitely showed signs of improvement offensively.
The top of the order set the table well all game as shortstop Jordan Sprinkle (UC Santa Barbara) and designated hitter Rhylan Thomas (USC) teamed up for five hits, scoring three times. The rest of the lineup tagged six hits, two for extra bases.
“We talked yesterday about coming into this one about trying to bounce back,” Sprinkle said. “I think both Rhylan and I were just up there being aggressive and fortunately we were able to get some hits.”
Right-hander Donovan Benoit (Tulane) got his first start of the summer, going five innings. Outside of giving up long balls to shortstop Brooks Lee (Cal Poly) and third baseman Peyton Graham (Oklahoma), Benoit pitched well, only giving up one extra run and recording a team high seven strikeouts.
“It was good to finally get back out there,” Benoit said. “There were a couple pitches that I wish I could get back but I just gotta make better pitches. But if they’re hitting homers that means I’m throwing strikes.”
The heartbreak came in the bottom of the ninth, after Y-D grabbed an extra run to cut the deficit down to a single run in the sixth, they sent the Y-D faithful home happy, scoring two off right-hander Orion Kerkering (USF).
After dealing a walk and a hit-by-pitch to the first two men, outfielder Briley Knight (Portland) got them both into scoring position on an excellent bunt down the first baseline. Kerkering then decided to give Lee a free pass with a base open to face Chase Luttrell, who promptly tied the game on a sacrifice fly to center field.
Designated hitter Nate Baez (Arizona State), who doubled home the sixth run for the Red Sox in the sixth inning, hit a slow roller to Locklear at third in the ensuing at-bat. Locklear tried to make a cross-body throw to first, but it forced Julio Marcano (NJIT) off the bag which lead to a desperation tag on Baez before the ball popped loose, allowing the winning run to score.
“It’s tough, he [Kerkering] had a great first inning and the second inning was just a little bit unfortunate,” Benoit said. “This team is going to be really special once we get ourselves going. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The loss sends the Birds back to Eldredge Park with a shot at redemption against Y-D, a team that has had Orleans’ number over the past couple seasons. First pitch is slated for 5:30 pm.