By Brendan Nordstrom
The Firebirds had lost their last four games. However, you wouldn’t be able to tell just by listening to their dugout.
In a position where a team may run low on energy, Orleans brought fire. Every single strike, every single ball, every single hit and every single out, there was noise escaping from the home dugout.
“We’re out here having fun,” starting pitcher Jake Peppers said. “The guys are having a good time, and we all want to see each other do good.”
Despite the encouragement, the Firebirds (2-6) were unable to capitalize on scoring opportunities as the barriers eventually broke down in a 4-1 defeat to the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox Monday evening.
“I thought the game was a lot closer than the score,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. “We’re going to need to score more than one run to win games.”
Peppers started his day off with a strikeout, which was indicative of what was to come from the Jacksonville State right-hander. It was Peppers' second start of the summer, as his first outing against Bourne came with trouble, allowing four runs in 4.1 innings.
It was a much different appearance today as he traversed the same amount of innings but with five strikeouts and no earned runs this time around. Peppers credited his slider as being a contributing factor.
“I felt like I started the game really well. I was able to establish the fastball early and then really get the slider working,” Peppers said. “The slider tonight was a good weapon.”
Peppers did run into a roadblock in the third inning after a fielder’s choice and a single put two runners on. A walk loaded the bases for Red Sox first baseman Hunter Hines, who came into the game batting .400 with two long balls. Peppers remained calm and retired Hines with a two-pitch popout.
“As long as the ball is in my hand, I can make a pitch at any time and really get it done,” Peppers said. “Until those runs cross the plate, nothing’s happened.”
The Firebirds’ offense stalled again tonight as the team has scored a total of six runs across their five-game skid. It wasn’t without opportunity, however, as Orleans had a runner-in-scoring position in five innings, only capitalizing on it once.
That came in the bottom of the second when Jo Oyama recorded his first hit of the summer on a check-swing bloop into right-center field, giving the speedy second baseman two bags. Additionally, Oyama recorded a second hit in the sixth as he reached base in three of his four at-bats, stealing two bases as well.
“He’s a very, very good player,” Nicholson said about the UC-Irvine product. “It’s good energy all the time. It’s good plate discipline. I love having Jo on our team.”
Following his double in the second, Oyama moved to third on a groundout and eventually came around to score on shortstop Drew Faurot’s single into center field for a 1-0 advantage.
The Firebirds’ offense struggled in the middle innings, striking out six times in a row spanning from the third to the sixth inning. This added to the daily total, which came out to 12. This follows Sunday’s 12-2 loss to the Harwich Mariners in which Orleans struck out 14 times.
“It’s a lot of preparation. It’s a lot of pitch selection,” Nicholson said on how to decrease that number. “When you get in two-strike counts, it’s tough.”
Yarmouth-Dennis finally broke through in the top of the fifth on Orleans reliever Jonathan Gonzalez, who entered the game with one out and a runner on. The Firebirds nearly escaped the inning when Oyama stepped on second, but he was just too late as the runner was ruled safe. DH Anthony Gonzalez then cashed in with a double hammered to right field that Fenwick Trimble misplayed, giving Y-D a 2-1 lead.
The Red Sox piled on two more in the eighth when a four-pitch lead-off walk from lefty Konner Eaton led to a run, and an RBI groundout brought around Y-D’s fourth.
The Firebirds had life in the final frame when an Oyama walk took Y-D reliever Leighton Finley out of the game. Finley went 4.1 innings, striking out four and allowing no earned runs. Right-hander Sawyer Hawks relieved him and walked catcher Henry Hunter to put the tying run at the plate. However, a strikeout ended any hope.
“This group, they care about one another,” Nicholson said. “They competed right down to the last pitch tonight.”
The Firebirds will take on the Falmouth Commodores at Guv Fuller Field for the first time tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. with Dylan Jacobs set to take the mound for Orleans.
“We’ve got a lot of bright spots in our game,” Peppers said. “I think tomorrow, we’re going to put it all together and really have a good team performance.”