By Brendan Nordstrom
Sam Hliboki worked himself into a difficult situation.
The Orleans reliever hit the first batter of his outing, walking the next on five pitches and hitting the third. With no outs and the bases loaded, the Firebirds’ recently earned two-run lead was quickly sliding out of their grasp.
The rain, which had threatened the game earlier in the day but paused at the start of the contest, resumed during the bottom of the eighth.
Brewster second baseman Davis Diaz didn’t let Hliboki get away completely scot-free, hitting a sac fly to deep center field. But the right-handed Vanderbilt pitcher struck out center fielder Will Turner on four pitches and induced a 6-3 groundout from catcher Brock Tibbits to escape the inning with a lead.
Righty Danny Carrion closed out the ninth with two strikeouts and a flyout to secure the Firebirds’ 3-2 win over the Whitecaps — their third-straight win over the East division opponent and the third over the last six games.
“We scored just enough runs to win,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. “It was well-pitched. It was low scoring. I just liked the way we played today.”
Orleans (7-8) bounced back from a competitive loss in Cotuit yesterday, staying more disciplined at the plate and being rewarded for it with 11 hits.
Despite the double-digit knocks, the Firebirds were only able to score three runs due to a handful of missed chances throughout the contest. They stranded eight runners on base and recorded a base runner in all innings except the fourth.
“Our offense was rolling but we couldn’t really poke things through,” third baseman Jack Penney said. “We’ve had great at-bats all day, but we were able to squeak one.”
The Firebirds finally scratched a run on the board in the sixth inning when shortstop Andy Blake lined a double into the left-center gap. Penney followed it up with an RBI single that snuck through the right side.
“Here’s the deal with Jack Penney,” Nicholson said with enthusiasm. “Jack Penney puts the ball in play, when you do that good things happen. He does not swing and miss.”
Orleans had the chance to tack on a run in the seventh inning after right fielder Fenwick Trimble smoked a 2-out pinch-hit single. Second baseman Jo Oyama placed a ball in the left-field gap as Trimble was given the wave home, but the throw beat him. It’s the second game in a row a Firebird has been thrown out at home. Nicholson said the rain made the dirt soft and difficult to run on.
“So it’s like, ‘God, he’s gonna score easily, [Trimble’s] a good runner,'” Nicholson said. “It was hard to get going on this surface.”
Orleans took the lead in the eighth inning when Blake earned a four-pitch walk to start the inning. Matt Halbach then figuratively ripped the cover off of the baseball past a diving Turner in center field. Halbach, losing his helmet in the process, legged out an RBI triple.
Halbach missed four games with a day-to-day injury, returning to the lineup yesterday against Cotuit. The triple was the second extra-base hit for the designated hitter in two days.
Halbach then touched home thanks to Penney’s hard-hit grounder to the right. It was Penney’s second RBI of the evening and comes on the heels of his game-tying home run against Yarmouth-Dennis to push it to extras a couple of days ago.
“When I come up to those moments, I try not to think too much. I try to simplify, so I’m just looking for anything over the plate,” Penney said. “I’m not trying to do anything too special.”
Orleans starting pitcher Chad Gartland was dominant on the mound. Gartland faced off against the Whitecaps last Wednesday, going five scoreless innings. Today, the George Mason righty struck out five in five innings, allowing only two hits.
“He was really good. He was just really good,” Nicholson said. “He did everything that you would expect of a starting pitcher.”
Unfortunately, one of the two hits Gartland allowed was a solo home run over the 380’ sign on the right field fence to Brewster left fielder James Tibbs.
Unlike yesterday when the bullpen gave up five runs, the relievers were lockdown, pitching a no-hitter through the game’s final four frames. Left-handed pitcher Derek Clark earned the win, going six-up and six-down in his two innings of work.
Hliboki escaped a jam and Carrion closed the door on Orleans’ fifth win in their last seven games.
After spending four games on the road, the Firebirds return to Eldredge Park tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. against the Falmouth Commodores.
“Same routine, good plan, good hitting approach,” Penney said. “Just one guy at a time, pass it on to the next guy.”