By Jack Loder
Whether Orleans wins or loses, Kelly Nicholson is always quick to point out the obvious in his postgame interview. It’s consistent with his happy go lucky style. The 17th year skipper doesn’t like to overthink things, often attributing wins and losses directly to things that are clear to even a casual observer. That was no different Sunday night following the Firebirds’ 1-0 victory over Chatham at Eldredge Park.
“We’ve got good arms. We’ve got really good arms,” Kelly Nicholson said. “It’s as simple as that. We gave up zero runs, I know I’ve said this before but I’m not the smartest guy in the world, when you don’t give up any runs you usually win.”
There are a number of storylines that have developed on Cape Cod this summer as we approach the midway point of the 2022 season. Cotuit started red hot and Y-D has since gone on a tear to take over the lead in the East. One of the more noteworthy trends has been the Chatham bats, or, lack thereof. The Anglers have been nothing short of anemic at the dish this year. They’re dead last in the league in nearly every offensive category and their luck didn’t improve early on in Sunday’s game against Orleans right hander Donye Evans. The former Vanderbilt arm was dominant in 5.1 innings of work. He mixed all three pitches and was constantly ahead of the Angler hitters, working at a brisk pace from his first pitch until his last.
For Evans, the approach on the bump never changes. The soft spoken righty likes to keep it simple during his starts.
“It’s all about being in control, control of my breathing, control of my pace,” Evans said as he signed autographs for a handful of excited kids following the game. “I liked how I was able to locate all three pitches and compete tonight.”
While Evans cruised through his first five innings of work, the top of the sixth was an eventful one, with Chatham squandering its only real scoring threat in spectacular fashion. The Anglers put runners at the corners with nobody out and manager Tim Holliday seemed determined to plate at least one at all costs. He called for a safety squeeze bunt on four consecutive pitches, only straying from the strategy after a pair of foul balls. When the squeeze was put back on, it came with disastrous results for the visitors. Josh Allen’s fastball whizzed past the still barrel of Guy Garibay Jr, leaving the zealous runner on third base hung out to dry. Guillemette fired behind the sitting duck for the first out of the inning. A strikeout and a fly out ended the threat and just added to Chatham's mounting frustration at the plate.
The Firebirds’ lone run of the ballgame came in the home half of the second, courtesy of some rare run manufacturing from the Firebirds.
Orleans isn’t without offensive issues of its own, of course. The lack of clutch hitting reared its ugly head again in the bottom of the eighth with the Firebirds poised to extend their 1-0 advantage with a bases loaded and nobody out situation. Chatham went to the bullpen with filthy reliever Tommy Molsky. Molsky delivered, striking out Kevin Sim, Isaac Humphrey and Logan Beard in succession to end the inning and transfer the momentum firmly to the visitor’s dugout.
“We have to remember they have good arms too,” Nicholson said. “That guy was pretty darn good tonight. He put our guys in uncomfortable spots.”
Luckily, Nicholson had an ace up his sleeve with closer AJ Blubaugh. His dominant right arm was too much for the awful Chatham bats, retiring the side in order and securing the razor thin victory for the home team and the roughly 1500 fans in attendance.
The winning formula of dominant starting pitching, airtight defense and just enough offense has been a tried and true one for Orleans this summer. It’s a precarious way to live, but one that can take a team to championship heights when it is firing on all cylinders.
The Fourth of July is a special day on the Cape and Orleans will be heading to one of the most storied atmospheres in the history of the league. Chatham hosts the Birds on America’s 246th birthday, to say Kelly Nicholson is excited would be an understatement.
“You won’t find a better and more historic rivalry on the cape than Orleans and Chatham,” Nicholson said. “It’s going to be a phenomenal atmosphere, I’m really excited.”