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Harwich, Mass. — With two out and two on in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3 of the East Division Series, pitching coach Rob Bono walked out to the mound. Moises Ceja, Chatham’s shut down closer all season, had just allowed back-to-back singles as a pinch hitter, Cal Raleigh, strolled into the batter’s box, representing the winning run for Harwich.
“[Bono] specifically said to attack him with a fastball,” said Ceja. “Over a couple of scouting reports he realized that fastball was the pitch to go with. . . .you’ve just got to catch your breath, get to your focal points, and trust whatever pitch is called.”
On the first pitch of the at-bat, Ceja induced a pop up to shallow right field that Stuart Fairchild caught to send the Anglers (17-26-1) into the East Division Championship Series with a 3-1 win over the top-seeded Harwich Mariners (27-15-2).
“It’s a really good feeling,” said first baseman Jeremy Vasquez. “This just proves that we can win it all. We believed that [Harwich] was the best, talent wise, team in the league, but if we can beat them we can beat anyone.”
Parker Rigler (1-4) earned his first win as an Angler on Sunday after tossing six innings of stellar baseball. In his outing, Rigler allowed one run on four hits as he walked a batter and struck out four.
“Tremendous, tremendous outing,” commented A’s manager John Schiffner. “And that is an amazing outing considering how strong of a right-handed hitting lineup that is. For [Rigler] to use his breaking stuff and keep them off balance for the time he did and then have the other guys come in and do a great job, it was just a perfect scenario.”
The Kansas State southpaw turned in his third consecutive stellar outing for Chatham by keeping the Mariners’ hitters off balance with a bevy of off-speed pitches.
“I’ve just been getting comfortable,” said Rigler of his recent performances. “You're getting into a little bit of a groove and when you're able to do that it’s a little bit easier to repeat your delivery and you just think a little bit less and when you do that it’s easier to have success."
In all three games this series, it has been the team with the dominant starting pitcher that has been able to win each game. In Game 1, Simon Mathews turned in an eight-inning gem for the Anglers before BJ Myers followed suit with a similar performance for Harwich in Game 2. While Rigler did not stay in the game for eight innings, his six strong frames were enough to secure him the win as Schiffner turned to his three most reliable arms in the bullpen to finish the job.
“It’s so good to be back in the other side of the column,” said Rigler, beaming. “I can’t tell you [how that feels].”
The skipper called on his All-Star reliever Isaac Mattson to keep the Mariners from rallying after Rigler’s night ended following the sixth. Promptly setting down four of the six hitters he faced on strikes, Mattson allowed a single to Ernie Clement before being lifted with Pavin Smith coming to the plate.
A power hitting lefty, Smith batted .600 in the postseason thanks to five hits in his first seven at-bats for Harwich. Leading by a pair of runs with a man in scoring position, Chatham called on their trusted southpaw to neutralize Smith as the Ed Baird Pitcher of the Year recipient, Connor Moore, took the ball.
“Smith’s been killing us, I think he has 111 hits against us this year,” joked Schiffner. “That was a great thing to be able to get him out. . . .Bono did a tremendous job setting the staff up in that situation. It was just absolutely right to the letter perfect.”
At the plate, the A’s were able to get to Harwich starter Packy Naughton (3-1) early, tagging the lefty for three runs in the first two innings. Chatham handed Naughton his first loss of the year after he allowed three runs in five and two-thirds innings. The Virginia Tech freshman also walked a batter and struck out five.
After Mason Koppens drew a one-out walk in the opening frame, Jeremy Vasquez ripped an RBI double down the right-field line that plated the Northeastern Husky all the way from first to open the scoring. The hit was Vasquez’s first against Harwich all season as the University of Florida product finally broke through, en route to a 2-for-3 night at the dish.
“I just kept staying with my approach,” said Vasquez. “Today, I just wanted to come in and, in BP, I tried to stay as loose as possible, and in the game I tried to compete my tail off and get some knocks.”
Vasquez advanced to third on the throw to home and came around to score one batter later as Stuart Fairchild laced an RBI single through the hole at shortstop.
John Aiello continued his recent offensive tear by crushing a towering homerun that left no doubt once it left the bat to leadoff the second inning. The hit was Aiello’s third in the series – the second most on the Anglers.
“He threw me a first pitch, inside fastball that I took,” said Aiello. “I knew a fastball was coming because it was 1-0 and I was the leadoff batter so I was sitting on a fastball and I had the timing down because of the pitch before. Luckily, I barreled it up and it went out.”
The Wake Forest freshman attributes his recent turnaround at the plate to his work in batting practice with hitting coach Travis Beausoleil.
“I’ve been facing, in BP, a lot of curveballs,” detailed the infielder. “I’ve asked Travis to mix speeds, throw curveballs and fastballs and not tell me what’s coming. . . .It’s just kind of clicked recently.”
Jumping on Naughton in the first two innings proved crucial to the Anglers, who were shutout through most of Saturday night’s blowout loss. The early lead inspired the Chatham hitters and provided Rigler with a safety net before he even threw out his first pitch.
“I’m so excited for those guys,” said Rigler of his team’s offense. “That is a stout pitching lineup and to go out there and face up against guys like that, it makes for a challenge, but they accepted it and they took it by the horns.”
With the victory, Chatham dispatched the top-seeded Mariners and is now set to take on two-time defending champion Yarmouth-Dennis in the East Division Championship Series. This season against Y-D, the Anglers bested their division opponents four times in six contests while winning all three road games.
“They won’t give up on each other,” said Schiffner, describing what makes this Chatham squad special. “They’re one of the best group of teammates I’ve ever been around. They enjoy each other, they have fun, they have fun in practice, they have fun during the games. It’s a fun group of kids to be around and they don’t like to lose.”
Game 1 of the EDCS begins on Monday night at 4:00 p.m. at Red Wilson Field. Catch all the action along with the Anglers Extra Pregame Show 30 minutes before first pitch on the Cape Cod Baseball Network.