The Chatham Anglers (15-26-1) set their sights on the Eastern Division leading Harwich Mariners (23-18-1) on Sunday night, in what was another lengthy ballgame that came within five minutes of the three-hour mark.
From the Anglers' perspective though, the 10-5 victory was well worth the laborious effort.
The Mariners were riding a four game win streak, but were denied a fifth consecutive W by Chatham's starting pitcher Dom Leone (Clemson). He pitched well enough for the win, going five innings, allowing three earned runs (five total), three hits, and eight strikeouts.
In the early innings, watching the Harwich batters was a study in futility. Leone kept the hometown hitters off balance by following the mantra of his manager John Schiffner: work fast, throw strikes, and change speeds. He did just that, striking out the side in the second, and racking up seven Ks through the first three innings.
Leone was touched for a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth off the bat of John Wooten (East Carolina).
Harwich's three other runs all came across in the fifth inning. After walking the first two batters, Leone induced a ground ball to his first baseman Kris Bryant (San Diego). It should have been a relatively easy double play, but Bryant botched the opportunity with an error that loaded the bases with no outs.
A pair of RBI sac flies and another error, this time on a ball that scooted through the legs of Richie Shaffer (Clemson) at third base, were good for a trio of runs that made the score 7-5 in favor of Chatham.
The majority of those seven runs scored by the Anglers were driven home by the left-handed batting right fielder/catcher/All-Star/run-producer Dane Phillips (OK State).
Just when you thought he couldn't possibly do any more damage to opposing pitching, Phillips continued to pour it on. The lefty slugger submitted a four-hit, five-RBI performance that boosted his standing as one of the CCBL's premier hitters.
On Sunday in Harwich, Phillips proved that he had no aversion to hitting to the opposite field. He shot a two-RBI double to left field in the second and fourth innings. In both instances, fellow Anglers Darrell Matthews (Cal) and Matt Roberts (UNC) were aboard in front of Phillips. Matthews and Roberts crossed the plate three times apiece.
A first inning RBI single by Richie Shaffer, and a fifth inning 398 foot triple to center field by Bryant accounted for the other Chatham runs.
A 7-5 lead entering the sixth inning is by no means cause to sit back and rely on pitching and defense, especially for the Anglers. Though both the bullpen and the fielding were solid in the last third of the game, Chatham's hitters took it upon themselves to provide some insurance.
After John Gianis (NC State) reached on an infield hit in the seventh, Matt Roberts sent a ball into the gap in left center. Gianis scored easily, as did Gianis himself when the next batter, Stephen Perez (Miami), roped an RBI single into center field. Next came the feather in the cap of Phillips' night, his fifth RBI, a sac fly that made the score 10-5.
Phillips entered the game within striking distance of both the league RBI and league batting average titles. Two RBI doubles, two singles, and an RBI sac fly later, Phillips sat atop both categories (32 RBI and .355 average).
When prompted to discuss a possible MVP award for Phillips, Schiffner lamented that the votes were due in last week, which obviously hurts considering Phillips' late surge.
"Who knows what will happen," said Schiffner. "He's certainly having a MVP-type season. It is fantastic to watch."
As has become customary, Schiffner sent out Matt Koch (Louisville) to close the game out in the ninth inning. Koch's scoreless ninth was the fourth scoreless inning of relief thrown by the bullpen. Pat Light (Monmouth) went two innings, and Tucker Healy (Ithaca) worked one inning.
"That was just the way we drew it up," said Schiffner. "Dominic threw great and the bullpen did exactly what they were supposed to do."
Despite being officially eliminated from the playoffs last week, the Anglers have not let down their skipper or the fans who have continued to support the team.
As Schiffner discussed, it is a ballplayer's responsibility to play hard through to the end of the season. But he revealed another, simpler motivating factor.
"You want to leave Cape Cod with a smile on your face and a good taste in your mouth. So let's go for two straight."
That statement is music to the ears of all the Chatham faithful who will no doubt pack Veterans Field for the last home game of the 2011 season on Tuesday night against Orleans. First pitch will be at 7 p.m. ET.