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4-run 5th inning propels Chatham to home-opener win over Orleans

by Allie Kaylor, 06-21-2021

4-run 5th inning propels Chatham to home-opener win over Orleans

Lyle Miller-Green (Chipola) stepped up to the plate following six-straight balls by Orleans pitcher Jake Saum, two of which hit Chatham batters Cam Chick (Nebraska) and Caden Grice (Clemson). Miller-Green still decided to swing, fouling the ball high and behind him. Then there was a ball. A called strike. Then two more balls.

On the payoff pitch, Miller-Green stared down Saum before lacing a ball into deep right-center field. The three batters on base all scored easily, and Miller-Green strolled into second with a double to extend the fifth inning.

“(I was) just trying to not miss a pitch I should hit,” Miller-Green said.

After three innings where Chatham’s Austin Vernon (NC Central) and Orleans’ Max Rajcic combined for eight strikeouts and three baserunners, the bats finally came alive. The Firebirds and Anglers exchanged runs in the fourth before Chatham exploded for four runs with two outs in the fifth, allowing it to withstand a late Orleans comeback and hold on, 6-3, for its first win of the season.

Vernon pitched for Chatham for the first time since he allowed the sole run in a 1-0 loss to Harwich in the playoffs. But the redshirt senior wasted no time showing the improvements he’d made in the two years since, opening the game with three-straight strikes, throwing only 13 balls and whiffing four batters with a mid-90s fastball.

Rajcic, UCLA’s primary closer this season, found similar success in the bottom of the first, getting all three batters out easily and allowing just two baserunners over the two innings — a line-drive single in the second and a third-inning hit by pitch.

Even though Vernon continued dealing, manager Tom Holliday had planned to have three pitchers pitch three innings each, and the senior was pulled for Cy Nielson (BYU) in the top of the fourth. After three no-hit innings from Vernon, Nielsen gave up hard contact on his fifth pitch of the night.

When the ball left Jared McKenzie’s bat and started flying to the right of Chick in left field, he had a choice to make. He could start running backwards to get a head start chasing the ball, or he could take a chance and try to catch the ball in the air. He opted for the second.

“We had the lead, so I kind of figured that catching it pays off, if not, just hold him at second base,” Chick said. “Lesson learned, it’s a little bit too far out of reach.”

Chick missed by mere inches, and McKenzie easily advanced to second with a standing double. McKenzie stole third and advanced home on a groundout, but that was just the beginning of trouble for the Anglers in the fourth inning. With two outs, Nielson walked a batter. Then another. What was a dominant pitching performance for the Anglers seemed to spiral out of control with two outs. A quick pep talk from Holliday had Nielson ending the inning with three pitches in the zone and an induced groundout by Rhylan Thomas.

Nielsen returned in the fifth inning and struck out two-straight batters on six swinging strikes, allowed a single to leadoff man Jordan Sprinkle, and then McKenzie grounded out softly to Matt Garcia (Chipola) to end the inning. A three up, three down sixth ended Nielson’s night, minimizing the damage after a rough fourth inning and securing the win for him.

After the Firebirds’ run in the top of the fourth, Grice stepped up to the plate. He was known as a power hitter at Clemson, but had yet to reach extra bases this Cape Cod Baseball League season. He watched the first pitch and hit a powerful foul ball before sending a pitch to deep center field, landing in the same spot he’d hit in batting practice numerous times through the past week.

Orleans’ Jack Filby didn’t make it past the fourth inning, as Saum entered the game in the fifth. He retired the first two batters out before imploding once the top of the order cycled back around. Following Miller-Green’s bases clearing double, Jake DeLeo (Georgia Tech) followed with one of his own, but John Michael Faile’s (North Greenville) strike out to end the inning stranded him on second.

Two innings of zeros followed, but Nielson nearly gave up the pitching staff’s first home run of the season. On the first pitch of the inning, Jace Jung sent a pitch to deep center field. DeLeo originally thought it was out, he said, but someone yelling “track” from the dugout made him think he had a chance. He leapt up, stuck his glove over the wall and came back down. The second base umpire held his fist in the air to signal an out, so Jung rounded second and started his trip back to the Orleans dugout.

Meanwhile, DeLeo put his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath rather than throw the ball back and celebrate a potential home run robbery. Jung was already back in the dugout when the umpires determined that the ball landed on the other side of the fence. After minutes of deliberation and arguments from both team’s managers, Jung was called out of the basepaths, and Nielson retired the next two batters to end his night.

“It was nothing but a book rule,” Holliday said. “Everybody here that’s anybody knows it was a home run.”

Heading into the eighth, with the Anglers still clinging to a 5-1 lead, Jacob Watters (West Virginia) started the inning eerily similar to Saum’s fifth — a walk and hit by pitch to the first two batters to bring up Jung, the Big 12’s RBI leader. He fouled off three pitches, each appearing harder hit than the last. A single through the middle scored one and put a runner on third with no outs.

Tyler Locklear followed with a single of his own, and the Firebirds halved the deficit, still with no outs in the inning. Watters was replaced with Oral Roberts’ Adam Scoggins in an attempt to get out of the jam. He walked the bases loaded with no outs to bring up Benjamin Blackwell, an infielder that batted .349 with 31 RBI for Dayton this past season.

Scoggins started the at bat with a ball, then induced three swinging strikes for the first out of the inning. He walked off the mound pumping his fists and cheering. Right handed Trevor Martin (Oklahoma State) replaced the southpawed Scoggins for an ideal matchup with Connor Kokx and Julio Marcano. Martin struck out the two, leaving the bases loaded as the game headed to the bottom of the inning.

Martin came back out for the ninth and retired the top of Orleans’ order — ending the game with two strikeouts. With a 1-2 pitch and two outs in the ninth, the over 2,000 fans at Veterans Field rose to their feet.

Martin nodded at the sign from catcher Faile and sent the pitch toward home plate. Jung swung and missed, the ball sank into Faile’s glove, and the Anglers rushed to the mound. Nearly 700 days in the making, the Anglers finally found a win on their home field.