By Jack Loder
One week ago, Orleans would have found a way to lose Tuesday night’s game. A struggling offense would have found ways to strand runners and go down swinging in big spots. The Firebirds that started this summer are evolving, however, and deciding to fly.
Luckily for Orleans, this is not the same Birds team we knew just days ago. The Firebirds rode a power surge and another strong outing from the pitching staff to a 6-3 home victory over Harwich. The win got Orleans back to .500 at 4-4-1.
“Obviously winning games is always going to bring good energy,” Kelly Nicholson said. “We’ve just played good baseball. Played well defensively. Pitched well and had clutch hitting. That’s the definition of good Birds baseball.”
With a win against Y-D tomorrow and a Brewster loss, the Firebirds could move into first place in the East. Trivial at this time of year, sure, but still remarkable given where this group was three days ago.
If Tuesday night is any indication, Donye Evans is going to be huge for Orleans. The towering right-hander out of Vanderbilt was dominant in his three shutout innings of work, striking out three while allowing just two hits. Evans just joined the Firebirds earlier this week after being with Vanderbilt during their postseason run.
“I liked the way he consistently threw strikes,” Nicholson said. “Anytime you can get a kid from Vandy who has played under Scott Brown and Tim Corbin you take it. I loved his body language as well.”
Evans gave way to Tommy Hopfe, who ran into some trouble in the top half of the fifth. Harwich saw Hopfe well in both of his innings, but it was a two run shot off the bat of Tommy Seidl that tied the game at three in the fifth. The homer didn’t look like one off the bat, but a gusty wind ouit towards right field and some good backspin carry allowed Seidl’s opposite field shot to sail comfortably over the right field wall.
The homer landed out of the reach of right fielder Jake Cunningham, but that didn’t stop The UNC Charlotte product from flashing the leather. He tracked a deep Harwich fly ball and made a leaping catch at the wall earlier in the contest, saving at least two runs.
It looked as though Tuesday night would be a slug fest early on, but the Orleans pitching staff was on a mission down the stretch. Hopfe gave way to Bryce Warrecker, who shoved in his two innings of work before right hander Chris Clark took the mound with the three run lead in the ninth. Clark set down the Mariners in order to secure the Firebirds’ third straight victory.
During the season’s first five games, Orleans couldn’t buy a home run or a clutch hit. Tuesday night, they got both when they needed it most. Travis Honeyman, coming off being named the CCBL offensive plYer of the week, took a 3-2 breaking ball deep into the home bullpen in right center to begin the home half of the first. Then in the sixth with the game tied at two, Bennett Lee launched a go ahead solo shot to put the Firebirds ahead for good. This team is hitting, and it’s finally coming in bunches.
“It’s all about my timing, I honestly see the ball the same whether I’m going good or going bad,” Honeyman said. “I don’t really have (opposite field) juice like that, so maybe the wind helped it out a little bit.”
As he’s done all year, Nicholson preached patience with the hitters. That patience is beginning to pay off.
“It takes time, it always takes time,” Nicholson said after the game. “People expect it to happen like that, but the bats always catch up.”
Orleans travels to Yarmouth on Wednesday evening to take on the Y-D Red Sox for the third time in 10 games. On opening night they tied before Y-D walked the Birds off on Friday. If Orleans is playing like this, they’re poised to settle the score.