By Brendan Nordstrom
It doesn’t get more dramatic than this.
Game three. Championship series. Bourne Braves. Orleans Firebirds.
With by far the biggest crowd of the summer — 7,123 fans — it was a winner-take-all matchup at Eldredge Park. A CCBL Champion would be crowned.
These two teams have history. When Carmen Carcone’s Orleans Cardinals won the Championship in 2003, they defeated Harvey Shapiro’s Bourne Braves.
The pitching coach for Orleans during that Championship run was Kelly Nicholson, and when he took over as manager in 2005, he won a Championship — against Bourne.
Now, it all came down to 6:30 p.m. on August 13, 2023.
Following last night’s 4-3 Orleans victory, Nicholson said the key to the game would be pitching — a recurring theme throughout the summer. The Firebirds' pitching staff was great as always on Sunday evening, but the Bourne hurlers were just a little bit better.
The third time was the charm as the Firebirds fell 5-2 to the Braves, who earned back-to-back titles with the victory, hoisting the Arnold Mycock Trophy. The game ended an energetic, thrilling season for Orleans, who returned to the Championship for the first time since 2013.
“Overall, it was a special season. We tried to make the most of it,” closer Sean Matson said. “It didn’t end how we wanted, but the relationships that were created over time kind of eases it up a little bit.”
The Braves, who were playing their sixth game in six days, had a depleted pitching staff, but they still received a quality start from left-hander Trystan Levesque. The only problem Levesque ran into during his 4.2 innings was the red-hot Jo Oyama.
Oyama was batting .142 in the playoffs entering game two of the Championship series, but he flipped a switch last night with three extra-base hits, including a long ball. Oyama kept riding the momentum, leading off the rubber match with a monster home run over the right field fence on Levesque’s fifth pitch of the outing.
Jack Penney earned a single in the first, and Eddie King Jr. launched a single through the four-hole in the second, but both would end up stranded on base.
Leading off the third inning for Orleans — Oyama. And he wanted more.
Oyama sent another long ball way deep into the Bourne bullpen past left field, going the opposite way for his fifth extra-base hit in the span of about 24 hours.
“It was a special one. We got out early,” Matson said. “We were alive at home, and it was a really special game.”
On the other end, Orleans starter Evan Truitt, who has been on the roster since day one of the season, was given his tallest task of the summer.
Truitt allowed a single to Peter Ciuffreda and a pair of walks in his first three innings of work, but he ultimately escaped without giving up any runs. This was helped by a pair of double plays turned by the defense.
The right-hander did, however, run into trouble in the fourth.
Bourne earned four straight singles, beginning with a Kendall Diggs lead-off single followed by Bryce Eblin’s single through the right side booted by Oyama to put runners on second and third.
One of the most feared batters in the Bourne lineup — Derek Bender — pounded a ball through the right side that scored Diggs. However, Trimble in right field delivered a dart home in time for catcher Henry Hunter to apply the tag on Eblin’s shoulder. It was enough for Nicholson, who elected right-hander Matthew Watson to enter the game from the bullpen.
With Bender eventually standing on second base, Watson struck out Sam Petersen, and Hunter launched a ball to third to catch Bender’s attempted steal for a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play.
The Braves came all the way back in the sixth inning after Joshua Kuroda-Grauer, the eventual playoff MVP recipient, hit a single over first baseman Matt Halbach’s head. This ended Watson’s outing, making way for left-handed reliever Everett Catlett.
Diggs welcomed Catlett to the game with a single over the head of Oyama to put runners at first and second. Eblin gave Orleans another routine double play ball, but after touching second base for one out, Oyama threw the ball just low of Halbach, getting past him to score Kuroda-Grauer.
Bender once again came through, taking the lead 3-2 with a line drive over the head of Penney at shortstop. Catlett struck out Michel looking before Nicholson once again left his dugout for an unconventional choice — closer Sean Matson entered the game at the earliest point he had entered all season.
“The coaches let me know before the game that I was going to come out earlier than usual, and I was expecting it and was ready for it,” Matson said. “It’s fun getting a little bit more time on the mound.”
Petersen, who nearly tied the game with a ground-rule double in the bottom of the ninth last night, added insurance to their lead tonight with an RBI single. Matson escaped the rest of the inning without further damage, but it was 4-2 Bourne.
Then, two innings later, Bender hooked a solo home run past the left-field pole, watching it all the way and flipping his bat in celebration of his third RBI of the contest. Hunter exchanged words with Bender as the two were face to face. After being broken up, the umpires huddled, eventually giving each team a warning. But, when the dust settled, Matson had given up his first earned run of the entire summer, it was 5-2 Bourne and the Firebirds faced an uphill battle.
"I felt pretty good. Overall, it was a decent [outing],” Matson said. “Just a couple of rough pitches.”
After Oyama’s second home run, the Firebirds’ offense didn’t just stall, it had a flat tire. Fenwick Trimble struck out to set off a chain of 18-straight Firebirds retired. Bourne reliever Anthony DeFabbia played his role perfectly, allowing no base runners in his 4.1 innings on the mound, striking out four.
With three outs remaining in the Orleans season, entering the bottom of the ninth, Trimble struck out. Penney sent a hot line drive, but right to the glove of Jonathan Vastine at shortstop. Halbach put a charge into the ball, but Ciuffreda in center ranged over to end the season.
The Braves were the 2023 Cape Cod Baseball League Champions for the second year in a row.
While the Firebirds season may not have ended with a banner, everyone would agree that it was a special summer in Orleans, nonetheless. With a team that truly played for the player beside them, the Firebirds will have lasting memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.
“The people that I’ve along the way in Orleans, on the team. It’s just the relationships created are the most important thing for me," Matson said. "I’ll remember every single one of these guys for the rest of my life.”
As the sun sets on another summer in Orleans, the Firebirds will head into hibernation until June, when yet another page in the team’s chapter will flip open.