By Brendan Nordstrom
The wind was whistling as it traveled into the field.
You couldn’t hear it, though. A crowd of over 3,200 Firebirds fans filled the hill with lawn chairs and deafening cheers. Right-handed pitcher Greysen Carter turned around from the dugout perch, raising his arms to fuel the fire.
Orleans was ready.
Jo Oyama scored on a Matt Halbach single in the first inning. Meanwhile, the dynamic pitching combination of Derek Clark and Sean Matson had only bled one run — a solo shot.
Staring down extra innings, the Firebirds loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth.
Jake Casey stepped into the box as Harwich had five players on the infield grass.
“I’m not gonna lie, I felt the crowd. I felt whatever the situation was,” Casey said. “I just found a way to slow myself down and really just stay within myself.”
And if Orleans was ready, so was Jake Casey.
“Put the ball in play, that’s all I was trying to do,” Casey said. “[It’s] awesome. Walk-offs feel great and especially when you win like this.”
Casey ripped a ball down the tattered left-field line, touching first before running into the outfield with his helmet raised in his right hand with his team piling on top of him.
The Firebirds (23-19) are getting hot at just the right time with an electrifying 2-1 walk-off victory in the final regular season meeting against Harwich — a game highlighted by pitching.
“That reminded me of games 20 years ago,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. “The wind was blowing straight in, and 2-1 were typical games. If you scored five, it was a blowout. So, yeah, it was fun.”
As the standings currently sit, the Harwich Mariners would be the Firebirds' opponent for the opening round of the playoffs that start on Friday. Today served as a study session for Orleans.
“We’re trying to gather as much information as we can on them,” Nicholson said. “So if we do end up playing them, we have a really good report.”
It’s dangerous to put Oyama on base to start a game, as the Mariners did on Monday evening. He has the ability to put himself in scoring position no matter what, stealing second after a lead-off walk.
Oyama advanced on a wild pitch, and Jack Penney delivered a hot shot at Bryan Arendt that was too hot, leaking into the outfield to give Orleans a 1-0 lead.
“He’s been the best lead-off hitter in the Cape Cod League,” Nicholson said.
Derek Clark was absolutely lights out in his final start of the summer, which has become the standard since his first appearance on June 12.
“It’s bittersweet,” Clark said. “I was just trying to take it all in. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another summer ball game, so trying to soak in this environment. I mean, it was an awesome crowd.”
When Clark exited the game after the seventh inning — tied for his longest appearance of the summer — he received a high five and a hug from every player on the bench. In Clark’s seven innings of work, he struck out three and allowed only six hits for one run.
Clark ran into trouble in the first couple of innings, which ran up his pitch count and is partly why he threw over 100 pitches on the day. A walk and a single put two on with one out. Then, Clark struck out, and catcher Owen Carapellotti caught Devin Obee stealing.
In the second inning, an error in right field put Ali Camarillo on first, and Andrew Yu singled through the left side. Camarillo took off for the third, successfully stealing third base, but Clark once again escaped.
“I didn’t think he was very sharp the first four innings … he worked behind some hitters but he’s usually working ahead,” Nicholson said.
Clark hung a pitch to Camarillo in the fourth as he hit a no-doubter over the left-field wall to tie the game at one. Then, Clark got back on track.
“Towards the end of the game, I felt I had everything working,” Clark said.
After six innings of work, Nicholson asked Clark if he wanted the seventh. To which he, of course, said, “Give me the ball.”
“He wasn’t coming out,” Nicholson said.
Harwich threw right-handed pitcher Collin Rothermel in the third inning, and he completely shut down the Firebirds for 6.1 innings, allowing only one hit up until the ninth frame.
“The guy was pushing really well, and we were trying to make adjustments, trying to find ways to win,” Casey said. “You’re not going to get a hit every inning.”
In the ninth inning, Orleans kick-started their walk-off with an Eddie King Jr. double into the left-field corner, ending Rothermel’s night. Matthew Boynton entered and struggled with command from the jump, walking Brandon Stahlman on four straight pitches.
Boynton wasn’t helped out by his defense when Carapellotti gave first baseman Arendt a tailor-made double play to end the threat. Arendt fielded it and tried to get the lead runner at second, but Camarillo dropped the ball to load the bases.
Then, Jake Casey walked it off.
The Firebirds are now only one point behind the first-place Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox with just two games to play in the regular season. Luckily for the Firebirds, they play the Red Sox tomorrow at Red Wilson Field for a chance to take over the top seed. First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
“If somebody would have told us, ‘Hey you’re gonna go to Y-D one point behind and play for first place,’” Nicholson said. “If somebody told me that at the beginning of the summer, I take that every day and twice on Sunday, like let’s go. It’s gonna be fun tomorrow.”