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Chatham’s returners boost offense in 2 wins over Wareham

by Anish Vasudevan, 06-20-2022

Chatham’s returners boost offense in 2 wins over Wareham

Jake DeLeo backpedaled, tracking a fly ball from Blake Wright which traveled deep into center field. It was the second hit that had come in his direction, the first requiring him to run toward the warning track.

DeLeo took two steps and jumped, bringing his mitt to the right side of his body while the ball advanced into its final descent. Wright’s hit went past DeLeo’s glove though, instead bouncing on the slanted hill beyond the blue outfield fence to give Wareham a 2-0 lead in the top of the third.

Chatham loaded the bases an inning later, and manager Tom Holliday yelled at DeLeo to “relax” after he clipped the ball into the back netting with a full count. He did, shifting his left foot from its usual tip-toe positioning to airborne before he hammered a pitch to deep left field. It landed over the same blue fence, roughly 100 feet away from the ball he couldn’t track down earlier.

“I knew that this was the time to either get us back in the game or put us ahead,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo’s grand slam was the Anglers’ first home run this season, giving them a 5-3 lead which they maintained for the rest of the first contest. Caden Grice, another Chatham returner, began the second game with a first-inning two-run home run. No runs were scored for the rest of the outing as Chatham won 2-0 in the latter matchup.

The Anglers continued to put together a strong defensive performance too, but they entered Monday sitting last in the league in most offensive categories. Chatham had a .193 batting average, but that improved to .204 after both matchups against Wareham.

Chatham fell behind early after Wright sent a changeup from Carson Whisenhunt all the way. It was the second home run Whisenhunt has given up this season, the first coming after he left another changeup “sitting over the plate” too much in the Anglers’ season-opening loss to Cotuit.

The Anglers had struggled to come back in games heading into Monday. They hadn't led first the entire season, amounting just six runs in three games. On Saturday, Chatham trailed 2-1 to start the top of the ninth inning. After Cooper Ingle struck out, the Anglers were two outs away from losing or tying in their third straight game, and close to scoring one or less runs for the third time this year.

Nate Nankil entered the game as a pinch runner after Caden Grice walked during the next at-bat, bringing Marcus Brown into the batter’s box. Brown — who recorded a hit in each of his previous three starts — watched two pitches land outside the strike zone before making contact on the ball.

The ball looped toward left field off Brown’s bat, but its trajectory led to an easy catch for Brewster’s third baseman. And Nankil sprinted to steal second five pitches later, but he was caught for the final out of the game.

“We have a bunch of good players, so we just gotta pull it together quick — a little bit quicker than what we’re doing,” Holliday said after the loss.

With an early deficit in the first matchup against Wareham though, Chatham was able to pull it together in the bottom of the third inning. DeLeo, again, was at the forefront, hitting the ball deep into left field for a single. Cooper Ingle launched the ensuing pitch to the same place, and DeLeo ran home after the ball was fumbled by left fielder Hogan Windish.

DeLeo said returners in the Cape Cod League have an advantage since they’re used to the nerves of performing in front of numerous scouts and against some of the best pitchers in the country. Grice added that being able to combine what they learned from the 2021 summer and this year’s collegiate season allows players to take their game a step higher.

“This year, I was just ready to play baseball and have fun,” DeLeo said. “You just need to come out here and not think too much.”

The Gatemen answered back in the top of the fourth with an RBI single from Torin Montgomery. Still, DeLeo's grand slam flipped the two-run deficit into a two-run lead. Both sides didn’t score for the rest of the game, and Whisenhunt was pulled for Magnus Ellerts, who struck out seven batters in three innings. Magnus was most effective in the top of the seventh, striking out the side to end the opening game.

Chatham’s lineup shifted heading into the second game, but the offensive success continued. Matt Hogan catapulted the seventh pitch he saw toward right field. It hit the fence on one hop for a double before Grice came into the batter’s box.

Grice swung and missed on the second pitch before Hogan advanced to third base after a wild pitch two heaves later. Hogan shuffled closer and closer to home plate, but Grice, who had two home runs in nine games with the Anglers in 2021, smacked the ensuing pitch deep into left-center. It dropped over the fence, giving Chatham a 2-0 lead — the only time so far in 2022 when it led first.

“I was feeling really good in the box today,” Grice said. “Any day is a good day when you hit a home run.”

Again, Holliday said Chatham “took care” of the game at the mound with returner Jacob Watters striking out four batters while only allowing one hit. Cy Nielson, another returner, came in for Watters in the top of the fourth and didn’t allow a hit until the end of the sixth.

Before he allowed the hit, Nielson faced Wright to start the inning. After a high fastball, Wright slapped a grounder directly right of Nielson. The ball dribbled toward Brown, who slid atop the dirt and reached over his body. The crowd reacted, their cheers escalating more as the ball flew to first base into the glove of Grice, who secured the first out in a split.