By Brendan Nordstrom
Mike Roberts was ready to fight for his team.
And the Cotuit Kettleers were ready to fight for their manager.
Kettleers first baseman Tanner Thach led off the second inning with a double down the right-field line against left-handed reliever Eric Orloff. Thach had scored the only run of the game so far with a no-doubt home run in the second inning. He moved to second on an error by Orleans third baseman Jack Penney. Then came controversy.
Third baseman Josh Pyne looked to lay down a sacrifice bunt but was called out due to runner’s interference, bringing every runner back. Roberts met the umpire on the other side of the third baseline chalk, looking for an explanation. Not happy with the answer and overstaying his welcome, Roberts was ejected.
All it took was one pitch for the Kettleers to respond as center fielder Rodney Green Jr. launched a ball into the Orleans bullpen for a 4-0 lead.
The Kettleers would go on to win the contest 6-1 as it was the story of missed opportunities for the Firebirds (2-4), who only plated one run despite loading the bases twice and recording a baserunner in all but two innings.
“That’s a good team. That team hits,” manager Kelly Nicholson said. “We need to obviously do a better job offensively. We’re gonna need to start swinging the bat a little bit better and putting up some more runs because it puts a lot of pressure on the pitching staff.”
Orleans starting pitcher Daniel Avitia had an outstanding outing in his second appearance of the young season. It wasn’t without stress, however.
After a 1-2-3 first inning, Avitia missed with a pitch upstairs that Thach took over the fence for a solo home run. Avitia got through the third inning in order, but the trouble began in the fourth.
A lead-off double from shortstop Brock Rodden and a pair of back-to-back walks put Avitia in a one-out bases-loaded jam. A four-pitch strikeout and a ground out to shortstop Drew Faurot saved Orleans from further damage as Avitia was able to stay focused.
“I just don’t really let it get to me,” Avitia said about the walks. “I was just like, ‘Alright, get the next batter, get the next pitch [and] try to keep my team in it.’”
Cotuit kept their foot on the gas in the fifth beginning with an error by second baseman Jo Oyama, who overplayed a ground ball. A single and an intentional walk loaded the bases again for Avitia, who escaped yet another jam with a ground ball to Faurot.
“Once you get in those bases-loaded situations, all you think about is just minimizing for your team and trying to get out of it,” Avitia said.
Avitia finished the day with five complete innings, allowing only one run while striking out five. After the game, he credited his changeup.
“I think next year he’s going to be one of the top pitchers in the country,” Nicholson said. “He’s going to give you a chance to win every night.”
The Firebirds had their opportunities throughout the game. Orleans had runners at second and third with one out in the fourth inning, but a groundout and strikeout ended the threat.
The bases were loaded once again in the sixth, but the Kettleers put in clutch reliever Cam Schuelke, who recorded a lineout and strikeout to finish the inning.
“Those guys are going to come through as the summer progresses. I’m not worried about those guys one bit,” Nicholson said about his offense. “They just have to be patient.”
The zero on the scoreboard was finally scratched off in the seventh when center fielder Austin Overn worked a leadoff walk. An error and double play advanced Overn to third, causing him to score on a wild pitch.
The Kettleers weren’t finished just yet as Thach, who was only retired once, tacked on his second home run of the night in the seventh. A throwing error in the eighth scored another as the Firebirds' defense committed four errors throughout the game.
“We will continue to work defensively,” Nicholson said. “What happened tonight is not going to affect what happens in our next game.”
The Firebirds are slated to hit the road once again tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. for their first look at the Brewster Whitecaps.
“Let’s just keep going and keep playing ball,” Avitia said. “We still got a lot of games left.”