By Brendan Nordstrom
The Firebirds made a promise to hitting coach Max Fecske.
After losing back-to-back games to the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox on July 23 and 24, they promised they would never lose two games in a row again.
“We kind of looked at each other like ‘Hey, if we don’t let that happen again, we got a shot to win this thing,’” Fecske said.
So, when the Firebirds lost game one of the CCBL Championship series 6-4 to the defending Champion Bourne Braves, they were determined to follow through.
“We all came in with a chip on our shoulder. None of us wanted to see what happened last night,” starting pitcher Ivran Romero said. “We’re a bunch of competitors and a bunch of great guys on this team. There’s nothing like this team.”
One of the players that made that promise was Jo Oyama. Oyama, a spark in the regular season, struggled in the playoffs, going 3-for-21 entering Saturday evening’s contest.
Oyama met with Fecske to work on hitting earlier in the day.
“He figured something out, and he got hot at the right time,” Fecske said. “If you keep showing up the yard this deep in August and doing your work, you’re going to get the results you want.”
Oyama was instrumental in delivering the Firebirds promise on Saturday night as the offense worked early. Of course, Bourne filled the late game with dramatics, but the Firebirds forced a game three with the 4-3 victory.
“We came out, gave 'em a couple runs, got on the board early, set a really good tone offensively, moved the baseball with conviction, hit the ball hard to all fields,” Fecske said. “You can’t draw it up any better.”
Yesterday was a boxing match between the two divisional champions with Bourne delivering the knockout punch on a three-run fifth inning. In the second bout, the Firebirds started swinging at the sound of the bell.
Jo Oyama led off with a double chipped into left field past a diving Sam Petersen. Trimble kept up the rally with a single through the middle to score a sliding Oyama.
“He just got back to being himself,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. “That’s who Jo is. You’ve seen it all summer.”
The Firebirds had Bourne starter Henry Weycker’s number early, earning their third straight hit with Jack Penney’s sharp single. Weycker was living on the slider, but it didn’t faze Eddie Micheletti Jr., who hit a rope to score Trimble. Orleans had a 2-0 lead before the Braves took a swing.
Bourne answered as Jonathan Vastine took the first pitch from Orleans starting right-hander Ivran Romero into center field for a single. Bryce Eblin followed it up with a double to the right-field corner to cut the lead in half.
The Firebirds took the run back immediately. Justin Rubin hit a lead-off single into shallow right field, while Owen Carapellotti was hit, putting two aboard. A wild pitch advanced both, and Trimble hit a deep sacrifice fly.
With the game at 3-1 in the first inning and a half, one would expect an offensive explosion, but Weycker and Romero proved too lethal in the back half of their outings.
“They’ve got a good lineup, but I love it when I’m facing some great hitters,” Romero said. “I think it gives me more energy, and it gives me even more of a reason to fight for my team.”
It’s hard to keep this Bourne lineup completely quiet. However, Romero figured them out with back-to-back 1-2-3 innings assisted by Penney’s highlight-reel defense at shortstop. Romero’s night ended at six innings of one-run baseball and a pitch count at 99.
“That’s who you want on the mound in a playoff game like this,” Nicholson said. “A guy that wants the ball. A guy that doesn’t want to come out of the game. A guy that can pitch to a report. He did all of that tonight.”
Orleans tacked on crucial insurance in the seventh when Oyama took the second pitch of his at-bat way deep over the right-field fence for his third extra-base hit of the game.
“I was like, ‘Thank God,’” Oyama said. “I felt amazing. It’s been a while, and I kind of knew as soon as I hit the ball.”
With a three-run lead, the Doran Park lights bright and nine outs to go, the Firebirds brought in left-hander Jonathan Gonzalez. The Stetson reliever mixed his deadly changeup to shut the Braves down in order in the seventh and eighth innings.
It was 4-1, and there were three outs left.
The Bourne fans along the left side of the field were the loudest they had been all night, shouting “Let’s go Braves,” and erupting at every play that went their way. The Orleans fans, who traveled well, sat alongside the right side of the field and brought the Eldredge clap to Doran Park, cheering at every strike.
“It gets me going,” Romero said. “I love when everybody that’s put their heart and souls into this program have [our] back.”
Eblin’s slow roller to first was mishandled on the flip to get the lead-off man aboard. Derek Bender then earned a full-count walk to put the winning run at the plate.
Nicholson quickly exited the dugout pointing to the bullpen for, who else, closer Sean Matson.
Matson got a popout to center field on the first pitch. Peterson then launched a ball deep, but the cavernous Doran only gave Bourne a ground rule double.
“That’s why you play the game, right?” Nicholson said. “Looked like we were going to get the first out … next thing you know the ball is on the ground and a walk and a ground rule double. It got loud and exciting. We had the right guy out there with Sean Matson.”
Hugh Pinckney drove in a run on a sacrifice fly to Eddie King Jr. in center field, making it a 4-3 game. Pinch hitter Nuu Contrades hit a ball sharply to Stahlman at third, but he delivered a laser to first ending the game to give Matson yet another save.
“He’s been doing it all year, man,” Romero said. “Greatest pitcher I’ve ever seen right there.”
It all comes down to this. The winner-take-all contest for the Cape Cod League Championship will start at 6:30 p.m. at Eldredge Park between the Bourne Braves and the Orleans Firebirds. The 2023 champion will be crowned.
“I’m so excited for tomorrow,” Oyama said. “No matter what’s gonna happen, I’m so excited, and I’m so grateful playing baseball with them.”
“Let’s go!” Romero said fired up. “I’m just happy. Let’s keep going, keep summer ball going. Let’s go get a ring on our finger.”