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Firebirds offense clutch, secures 8-4 win to snap losing skid

By Brendan Nordstrom

Brewster’s Will Turner took a one-out pitch on the fists into shallow center field.

It was a 6-4 game in the bottom of the seventh.

Both teams — each off of a three-game losing streak— needed this win.

Davis Diaz took a pitch from reliever Jonathan Gonzalez to dead center, carrying through the sweltering summer Cape Cod heat.

Colin Tuft tracked back, following the ball in step. Reaching the edge of Stony Brook’s warning track, the ball looked to sail over the fence to knot the game up.

Then, Tuft leaped, freezing in midair at the peak of his vertical to snag the ball and keep the Firebirds ahead.

“Unbelievable,” manager Kelly Nicholson said about Tuft’s defense. “He’s a very, very good athlete, and that’s why he’s playing center field.”

Orleans tacked on two more insurance runs in the ninth for a commanding 8-4 victory over the Brewster Whitecaps — the fourth time the Firebirds (11-13) have bested their East division rival this summer. Both teams were tied for third in the division, but Orleans took firm control of the spot after Tuesday.

“Henry Hunter said it best … this was a great team win,” Nicholson said. “We have a nice taste in our mouth for at least until the next time we play.”

The Firebirds started early with help from Brewster starter Rocco Reid, making his second start. Reid struggled to find the zone in the first, delivering four-straight balls to lead off the contest and handing away three additional free passes in that inning.

Third baseman Jack Penney hit an infield single as Orleans scratched across two runs, stranding the bases loaded, leaving something to be desired. The Firebirds have left 11 or more batters on base in the past two games.

The free 90 feet benefitted the Whitecaps as well. Firebirds flamethrowing starter Greyson Carter gave away a lead-off walk after getting ahead 0-2 on center fielder Will Turner. Turner advanced to third by way of two passed balls, scoring on a groundout — a groundout second baseman Jo Oyama recorded by flashing the leather on a diving stop.

Carter didn’t let it get to him, retiring the next six batters in order with two strikeouts to complete his day as the opener.

“He’s firm. He’s hard to hit,” Nicholson said. “When he throws strikes at 99, he’s going to be tough to hit.”

In the table tennis match of a game, the Firebirds responded with a backhand tap in the fourth. Catcher Hunter hit a pure stroke to right field to lead off the inning, while Oyama was hit in the helmet by a high-and-in off-speed pitch — one of six Firebirds hit in the game. Shortstop Justin Rubin laid down a sac-bunt to move the runners before Penney hit a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 3-1.

If last inning served as a set-up shot, the Firebirds slammed the ping pong ball this inning. It’s an example of what the team has been missing the past few games — productive at-bats.

First baseman Matt Halbach curled a double around the third base bag to lead off the frame, eventually scoring on another sac fly.

With the bases cleared, designated hitter Jake Casey, returning to the lineup for the first time since July 1, lofted a ball right fielder Josh Pearson could only watch as it sailed over the wall for his team-leading third home run of the season.

“I made a good adjustment just slowing down a little bit,” Casey said. “It’s tough to stay out, but I think it was good because I got myself back healthy 100%.”

Right-handed pitcher Evan Truitt replaced Carter in the third and delivered lockdown pitching in his first two innings of work before running into a jam in the fifth.

First baseman Ike Irish took a ball up the middle and second baseman Mason White worked a much-earned walk to start the inning. A sac bunt moved the runners before Truitt’s third strikeout of the evening put shortstop Diaz in a high-pressure spot. Down 0-2, Diaz smoked a ball to left, scoring two to close the gap at 5-3

Then, one of, if not, the league’s most electric players — Jo Oyama — led off the sixth with a ball lined down the right field chalk. Oyama took the turn toward third as the relay was rushed, rolling out of play to score the UC Irvine infielder for a makeshift home run. This mirrored a similar play Oyama scored on in the Firebirds’ 6-5 loss to Cotuit on Sunday.

“Speed is one of my tools, so trying to get on base and trying to put pressure on them is my job,” Oyama, who has reached base in 19-straight games, said. “Trying to control the game … that’s my approach.”

Brewster added another in the bottom half of the frame on a sacrifice fly to keep pace with their flying away foe. But they couldn’t cross runs in the next two innings mostly due to Gonzalez, who struck out two in his two innings of work.

Lefty Derek Clark entered with two on in the eighth, escaping the jam with a three-pitch strikeout for a brief, but important outing.

“He said he could give us an out, and it was a better matchup,” Nicholson said. “We trust in Derek 100%.”

Three more free passes in the ninth inning and a pinch-hit RBI single by Eddie King Jr. brought around two more insurance runs. Sean Matson closed out the ninth for Orleans, securing the victory to snap a three-game streak.

The Firebirds will return to the diamond on Thursday for a formidable foe in the Harwich Mariners down at Whitehouse Field for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch.

But first, an off day.

“Just take a day off,” Casey said. “Take baseball off and just get the mind right for Thursday.”

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