By Brendan Nordstrom
It’s not always a storybook ending.
The Firebirds weren’t ready to give up, staring down a 14-8 deficit in the bottom of the ninth — and the energy was high.
“It was very contagious,” shortstop Jack Penney said. “Every guy was on the top side of the dugout, looking forward to what the guy in the batter’s box was gonna do.”
With a crowd of over 3,700 fans, it felt like a playoff environment for the final game of the regular season. The fans were clapping, and the dugout was buzzing. Everyone understood the stakes.
While Orleans clinched a playoff berth a week ago, the team had the opportunity to claim the East Division regular season title with a win over Chatham on Wednesday evening.
Owen Carapellotti started things off with an infield single, which was followed up by a Colin Tuft walk. Jo Oyama just got under a ball, flying out to deep left field. An error by the Chatham shortstop put Jake Casey aboard. Then, Jack Penney hit a home run.
“I knew he was throwing a lot of fastballs, so I was just looking for one over the plate,” Penney said. “I was lucky enough to get one out over the plate on the outer half and put a good swing on it.”
Blink and you would miss it — the score was 11-14 with one out. With the bases cleared and a new Anglers arm in the game, Matt Halbach ripped a double. Eddie Micheletti Jr. then sent a pop-up in no man’s land that dropped to score Halbach.
The Firebirds were now within reach, and what seemed like a fruitless dream was turning into reality.
But, it’s not always a storybook ending.
A strikeout looking ended the game, putting away the Firebirds comeback dreams — and the No. 1 seed in the East.
Unfortunately for the Firebirds (24-20), their offense could only play catch-up in a game Orleans lost to the Anglers by a score of 14-12. The loss comes on the heels of a five-game winning streak.
“It was long, weird, but a lot of fun,” Penney said. “I think our guys enjoyed it even though we lost. Having those last couple innings where we put together some runs and hits is special. And the energy, we could feel it.”
Starting pitcher Evan Truitt only pitched an inning, setting the Anglers down in order. Orleans debuted reliever Joel Rodriguez in the second, who also made a name for himself with his curveball that struck out two in a three-up-three-down inning. Rodriguez, however, struggled in the third, and Orleans took an ugly early deficit.
Chatham led off the frame with Jayden Melendez walking on four pitches. Then, back-to-back hits ended the day for Rodriguez. Another debuting arm for Orleans — Everett Catlett — entered the game, however, he also had command issues.
Catlett walked Chatham lead-off man Brennan Holt before giving up a single to Tyler Wulfert. Another walk and another hit made the game 4-0. The bad news: The Firebirds still hadn’t recorded an out.
By the end of it all, eight straight Anglers reached base in an inning that had 10 batters come to the plate to give them a commanding 7-0 lead.
“You can’t walk  guys and expect to win,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. “That’s never gonna work at any level.”
One noticeable bright spot during the contest was Orleans reliever Sam Hliboki. The Vanderbilt right-hander had two innings of scoreless baseball to top off his regular season.
The Firebirds were able to scratch runs across in the fifth inning when Tuft and Oyama led off with walks. Fenwick Trimble hit a sacrifice fly before a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice scored two more to bring the Firebirds within four at 7-3.
The Anglers punched right back with another 11-batter inning to put up a six spot in the top of the sixth. Penney mentioned how the early count pitching could have changed the game.
“We got behind a lot of hitters, and then they were able to do some damage,” Penney said. “We were definitely in the game … it might not have felt like we were, but the guys in the dugout definitely had the energy.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Firebirds responded with a big inning of their own. A lead-off walk led to Tuft clearing the scoreboard in left field for his second home run of the summer. Oyama, pinch hitter Jake Casey and Penney all recorded singles to put ducks on the pond. Micheletti earned his second RBI on a single, while a pair of sacrifice flys began to close the gap once again with a score of 13-8.
Both teams' bats remained quiet until the ninth inning. Chatham added a run on a Deric Fabian solo home run in the top of the frame. Then, the Firebirds showed fight.
“We competed,” Nicholson said. “I told them I’m fired up to watch them compete on Friday night.”
Orleans will have an off day tomorrow before the playoffs begin at Eldredge Park on Friday with a 6:30 p.m. first pitch against the Harwich Mariners.
“This group does not want to go home,” Penney said. “It’s a special thing that I feel, and the guy next to us feels, and I think we’ll carry that energy just fine to Friday.”