By Jack Loder
In the bottom of the first inning, it looked like the Firebirds were poised to break out of their team wide offensive slump by way of the long ball. Travis Honeyman continued his hot streak with a leadoff shot, and Kevin Sim added a solo shot of his own with two down. After nearly doubling its home run total in a single inning on Saturday night, Orleans was held scoreless in the final eight innings, falling 8-2 to Bourne on a chilly night at Eldredge Park.
One aspect of the Firebirds’ game that has been nearly bulletproof during their early season struggles has been the defense. The tide turned Saturday, as two huge errors a number of other miscues on defense cost the Birds big time.
“I thought that we were embarrassing defensively tonight,” Kelly Nicholson said following the loss. “Embarrassing for a Cape Cod League game.”
The loss is just the latest of a series of disappointing offensive performances to start the year, but the pitching and defense has begun to slow down after a red hot first few games. Bourne put up eight runs on 13 hits, and capitalized on each Firebird mistake en route to the comfortable win.
“This is definitely one that we’ll flush and forget about,” Nicholson said. “I’m gonna tell them right now that the bus leaves for Falmouth tomorrow at 12:30.”
Wyatt Loncar got his second start of the season Saturday night, and put together a similar outing to his first, which he called “just okay.” For Loncar, his first six innings of the 2022 summer can be defined by one word: almost. He’s allowed six runs in as many frames, five of which have scored with two outs. The Ohio State right hander seems to put every batter he faces in an 0-2 count, but the out pitch has come a batter late during his first two starts. He worked through a scoreless but tumultuous first inning before allowing three runs over the next two innings. The two run lead Orleans was spotted in the bottom of the first was gone, and it never came back.
“You gotta command the fastball, and we as a staff have to throw more change ups,” Nicholson said. “In my opinion the change up is the best pitch in the game.”
Firebirds fans could have pulled their hair right out of their scalps in the home half of the third and I wouldn’t have blamed them. Honeyman stayed hot and led off the frame with a double down the first base line. Nicholson then called on Brock Rodden to lay down a bunt, and it was a good one. Rodden’s roller found no man’s land on the right side, and the Wichita State infielder was able to beat it out. That’s when the trouble started. Unable to retire Rodden, Bourne second baseman Matt Shaw turned and fired to third, where Honeyman’s overzealous turn towards home left him dead to rights.
After a base hit allowed Rodden to advance to third, Kevin Sim laced a line shot up the middle that seemed destined for the center field grass. Shaw had other ideas, as he leapt and snagged the hot shot. Jacob Wilson, running on the pitch, was easily doubled off to end an especially frustrating inning at the plate. At one point Orleans seemed poised to not just tie the game but to take the lead. Coming away with none was a substantial blow.
Josh Allen took over for Loncar on the mound in the top of the fourth and endured his first rough outing of the summer. He struck out a pair but surrendered a single that set up Bourne first baseman Chris Brito, who launched a nuclear bomb to left center field. The Firebird outfielders didn’t have to move, and once that ball lands it will be 5-3 Bourne. Nicholson elected to stick with Allen for the long haul, and it looked like a good decision when the Duke southpaw tossed a scoreless fifth and sixth innings. In the seventh, Bourne figured out Allen. They plated three more runs, the latter two coming on a towering home run down the left field line.
Nicholson discussed the usage of his pitching staff’s vast repertoire, suggesting that a more simplistic approach could help some arms.
“I think a lot of guys who have four pitches need to use three,” he said. “All hitting is is timing and pitching is disrupting that timing. I told them the other day if you’re a left handed pitcher and you don’t throw a change up that’s criminal.”
The home half of the fourth wasn’t much kinder to Orleans, as the Firebirds stranded two more runners. With two on and two out following a sharp single from Garrett Pennington, third baseman Diego Baquero popped out on a first pitch breaking ball, ending the threat. It’s missed opportunities like this one that have seriously plagued Orleans all too often during the first chunk of the summer season.
Like Nicholson said, this game will be one that The Firebirds bury and move on. While that’s true, the group would be wise to learn a thing or two about how the games they’ve been losing are being lost on just a few pitches here and there.
“We need to focus up,” Jacob Wilson said. “We’re going to get there.”