By Brendan Nordstrom
Bases loaded and no outs.
Eddie King Jr. had reached base on a walk. Brandon Stahlman dropped a hit in shallow left field in a nine-pitch at-bat. Owen Carapellotti then dropped down a perfect bunt single.
“Carapellotti with that sac bunt set the whole inning up,” manager Kelly Nicholson said.
Harwich sounded the alarms. Sean Hard had thrown three innings of scoreless baseball. However, Mariners head coach Steve Englert pointed to left field, calling for a bullpen arm.
The game wasn’t a pitcher’s duel — it was a pitcher’s battle.
The Firebirds hadn’t scored a run throughout the game’s first eight frames, but the energy was at an all-time high. With over 3,000 fans at Eldredge Park standing and screaming, it felt exactly like what it was — playoffs in Orleans.
While everyone in the Firebirds dugout was rowdy, Orleans right-handed starter Greysen Carter was standing on the top step of the dugout with the most energy of everyone. Carter opened the playoffs with a six-inning outing where he struck out eight and the only blemish being a solo home run.
“I’m there screaming, trying to help everyone out just to get behind all of our hitters,” Carter said.
The Firebirds had a new test in Harwich reliever Cole Roland, who was dealt an unfortunate hand. However, he didn’t let the pressure get to him — to start.
Colin Tuft struck out on a checked swing in a long, competitive at-bat. Jo Oyama, the team’s most reliable hitter, also couldn’t handle the curveball, striking out on five pitches.
Bases loaded and two outs.
The dream the Firebirds had constructed had quickly withered into a nightmare. The dugout ready to erupt, the bullpen waiting with bated breath, the dreams were nearly crushed.
Then, Justin Rubin chopped a ball into the ground. The ball found a spot past Roland in no man’s land, and the game was tied.
Jack Penney stepped into the box. He was given a 3-1 count as Roland appeared rattled. Penney took the fifth pitch — a breaking ball — but it clipped the inner half of the plate to make the count full. The next pitch, Penney didn’t take.
It was hit softly off the bat — high enough and far enough that everyone knew what had happened at the sound of wood on leather. The dugout quickly emptied, the bullpen came sprinting in and the Orleans faithful jumped in celebration.
The Orleans Firebirds (1-0 ORL) had walked it off in game one of their opening-round matchup against the Harwich Mariners.
“There was nothing to change,” Nicholson said. “There was no pep talk, nothing. Like, let’s just go play, and it’s all about preparation and being consistent with our thoughts and our actions.”
These two teams played each other just four days ago, and it ended the exact same way. The Firebirds earned a 2-1 walk-off victory against Harwich, and it served as a study session.
“They probably got information on us, and we got information on them,” Nicholson said. “We thought we were very prepared coming into this series.”
Flamethrower Greysen Carter was dominant to start, mixing his speedometer-breaking fastball with a deadly slider and the off-speed.
“I think everyone in the whole stadium knows what’s coming,” Carter said about his fastball. “So, I just tried to get my off-speed in there, and it worked out toward the later end.”
He struck out eight in six innings of work — the most punchouts by any Firebirds pitcher in an outing.
Carter began his day with a 1-2-3 inning before running into trouble in the second. With two outs, Carter allowed a pair of softly hit singles, but he escaped with yet another strikeout. Carter also walked a batter in the third with two outs, but he again escaped unharmed. He then sat the Mariners down in order for the fourth and fifth inning, marking his longest outing of the summer.
On the other side, Harwich started right-handed sidearm thrower Blake Purnell. Purnell struggled with control in the first inning, walking Jack Penney and hitting Matt Halbach with a pitch. However, Purnell induced a flyout to end the inning scoreless.
Purnell gave up his first two — and only two — hits of his outing in the third on a Colin Tuft infield single and a Penney hard-hit single to center field. Yet, Purnell induced weak contact to escape the jam.
Going into the sixth inning, it felt as if the first team to break the deadlock would go on to win.
Harwich shortstop Ali Camarillo, who had flashed the leather throughout the game, led off the frame with a solo shot to deep left-center field. Camarillo scored Harwich’s only run in the game on Monday between these two teams on a solo home run.
“Tip the cap to that,” Carter said. “I left the fastball there, and he timed it up. You just got to tip the cap, and that was a good hit.”
That’s all Harwich could scratch across as Orleans right-handed reliever Matthew Watson was dominant in his three innings of work. Watson took the Mariners down in order twice, while escaping a first-and-third jam in the eighth.
“Outstanding, three shutout innings in a playoff game,” Nicholson said. “He threw strikes, his breaking stuff was good, he’s super poised.”
In pitcher’s duels, runs come at a premium. Every hit, base runner and runner-in-scoring position is that much more important.
Harwich relieved Purnell with right-handed reliever Sean Hard, who struck out five in his outing.
The Firebirds had King on first to start the seventh inning thanks to a single hit up the middle. King successfully took second, and an errant throw gave him third. However, back-to-back strikeouts cost Orleans as Jo Oyama’s groundout ended the frame with no runs.
“It’s good pitching. This is what playoff baseball in the Cape should be,” Nicholson said. “This was just a typical Cape game.”
Now, the Firebirds were down to their final three outs of the game. And the pitcher’s battle had a winner.
The battle may had been won, the war rages on. The Firebirds look to finish the job tomorrow at Whitehouse Field in Harwich at 5:30 p.m. Ivran Romero will be on the mound for Orleans.
“You’re never gonna hear me give a pep talk. This team doesn’t need it,” Nicholson said. “They come ready to play every night.”