By: Cole Bradley
WAREHAM, Mass- There weren’t too many highlights for the Orleans Firebirds in Wareham on Friday night, except for one.
In the fourth, with a 2-0 deficit, down two strikes in the count, looking for the first baserunner of the night, shortstop Jordan Sprinkle (UC Santa Barbara) did something that doesn’t happen too often.
In the box against right-hander Jonathan Brand (Miami OH), Sprinkle walked, stole second on an incredible jump, nabbed third a couple pitches later and scored on an RBI groundout. He made a diving play to rob what would’ve been a tenth hit for Wareham a half-inning later.
“My coach just talks about being aggressive, and I’ve been able to get extra bases stealing,” Sprinkle said. “With positioning and everything, speed wise it helps.”
Aside from that, the Birds didn’t do much at the plate, failing to crack the hit column until the seventh after striking out nine times before then. This played a large part in Orleans’ second loss of the season at the hands of the Gatemen by the final of 4-2.
Wareham wasted no time drawing first blood, and after dropping seven runs on Yarmouth-Dennis, they managed to plate two quick ones on back-to-back moonshot home runs from Cade Fergus (George Washington) and Owen Diodati (Alabama).
Once more, the Firebirds continued to struggle at the dish, striking out 11 total times while only notching four hits. The unparalleled power the Birds possess has yet to be seen thus far, as Orleans has only managed five extra-base hits since the start of the season.
The pitching once again provided much of the positive for Orleans, as four arms teamed up to punch out 11 hitters, six of which came from right-handed starter Hayden Thomas (Texas A&M Corpus Christi). After shaking off the two consecutive home runs, he only gave up one hit while walking two and keeping the Gatemen off the board until his exit.
“Solo home runs in the game of baseball are going to happen, and we’ll take that all day,” pitching coach Matt Troupe said. “The adjustment he made after that was outstanding. We took him out in the fourth and he was like, ‘coach I feel better right now than I did at any other point.’ Realistically he could’ve gone nine innings after giving up those two homers.”
Thomas seemed unfazed by any mistakes he made on the evening, throwing 13 first pitch strikes to the 17 batters he faced and getting swings in misses on aggressive fastballs in the zone consistently.
“You could tell it was getting better for him,” Troupe said. “It was coming out cleaner on the fastball, his curveball got a little bit tighter. I’m definitely proud of what the staff did.”
Even though Wareham grabbed two more runs before the end of the night, one on yet another solo homer, this time from catcher Jimmy Crooks (Oklahoma), Orleans debuted yet another weapon out of its bullpen in lefty Zack Morris (Arkansas), who was just activated Friday morning.
Morris retired all four hitters he faced in a scoreless outing, sending it to the ninth and giving the Birds a prime opportunity to win it.
“My arm felt great, and it was just nice to be on a field again,” Morris said. “It just felt real nice to get back out here and do my thing.”
Orleans had a good chance to make it interesting in the ninth, but Wareham made sure not to let the game turn on its ear. Jace Jung (Texas Tech) rocketed a ball back up the middle that would’ve likely scored two had it not been for shortstop Cody Jefferis (San Diego), who made a diving play allowing only one to cross.
The Firebirds are now 2-2 to start the summer, they have given up the third fewest runs in the Cape League at 15 but have also scored only 19 times, which still ranks second in the East Division.