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Chatham, Mass. — On July 31, the Chatham Anglers fell to the Cotuit Kettleers 1-0 at Lowell Park. The loss appeared to shatter the A’s postseason hopes as they stood three points out of the final playoff spot with three games to go. But, instead of sulking and declaring the season over, the Anglers (17-26-1) rebounded by winning two of their next three to vault themselves into the postseason, just edging the Brewster Whitecaps.
“We never gave up,” said catcher Jordan Romero (LSU). “We could be down five runs and it doesn’t matter. It just shows the team chemistry and how every one of these guys has each other’s backs.”
Once in the playoffs, the Anglers continued to roll to impressive victories, despite a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Harwich Mariners. Entering the East Division Series, Chatham had beaten Harwich just once on the season while compiling a 1-4-1 record against the Mariners. However, when Simon Mathews (1-3, Georgetown) took the mound for Game 1 at Whitehouse Field, the right-hander proved to the entire crowd that the A’s would not watch their season end without a fight.
Mathews tossed eight shutout innings of stellar baseball and set down 11 Mariners on strikes – the most strikeouts in the CCBL in 2016. Chatham built off of Mathews' momentum and struck for three runs as the A’s defeated Harwich 3-1 in Game 1.
“No one believed in us that’s for sure,” said LSU pitcher Caleb Gilbert. “We respected and loved each other, we truly wanted each individual to do well and have a good performance. And when that’s around the clubhouse and around the field it shows. To show that we had a chance was a great part of the summer.”
After suffering a 13-1 loss in Game 2, the Anglers returned to Whitehouse Field – where the Mariners had not lost back-to-back games all season – for a decisive Game 3.
Turning to Kansas State lefty Parker Rigler (1-4) for what could have been the final game of the season, the Anglers struck for three runs in the first two innings while their pitcher cruised through six innings – allowing one run – as Chatham defeated the top ranked team in the division and punched their ticket to the East Division Final for the first time since 2013.
“They just kept battling, and it’s a credit to them,” said manager John Schiffner. “These kids showed leadership and kept everyone together. The coaching staff did the same thing, we kept it together, we kept positive and they kids responded to positive, it was pretty special.”
The season began for the Anglers with promise as highly touted players from around the country arrived seemingly everyday. Arriving in Chatham at the very beginning of June, roommates Patrick Mathis (Texas) and DJ Artis (Liberty) made immediate impacts. Mathis delivered Chatham its first win by stroking a two-run triple to left field in the eighth inning against Orleans on June 12. Two days later, Mathis and Artis both notched homeruns as the Anglers began a stretch of 8-6 play in their first 14 games.
“I was always questioning if I could play with the top guys like SEC, ACC guys because I’m in the Big South at a mid-major school,” said Artis, who led the Anglers in hits and at-bats. “Now I feel confident that I can.”
However, the following three weeks resulted in just three wins in 17 games for Chatham as they dropped to the bottom of the East Division. Adding on to the A’s dismay were the departures of numerous integral teammates due to injuries. Players like Joe Freiday (Virginia Tech), Chase Pinder (Clemson), and Tanner Gardner (Texas Tech) – all vital parts of the team’s identity – left Chatham as the Anglers continued to try and fight their way out of a rut.
With numerous A's being forced to leave, Schiffner called in a number of new players to help keep Chatham afloat as they moved past the halfway point in the season.
“I think they did well,” said the skipper of the late additions to his squad. “Alex Person certainly showed that Southern New Hampshire has got a pretty good program, he came in here and did a nice job. [Mike] McCormick is going to go back to Eastern Illinois with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, a little confidence that he came down here and got some people out in the Cape Cod League. Bo [Burrup] will go back to BYU going ‘Yeah, I got a win in the Cape Cod League,’ and that’s something that Mason [Koppens] will do when he gets back to Northeastern, I think that’s going to help him become a team leader because of the success he had down here.”
With their new members fully on board, the Anglers again found ways to win. Late rallies and walk-off wins characterized Chatham’s play down the stretch as the Anglers came back from deficits small and large countless times to earn hard-fought victories.
“Never backing down and always fighting,” said Reed Howell (Appalachian State) when asked how he would remember the 2016 season. “We always say ‘don’t let the Anglers hit in the ninth,’ because every time in the ninth inning we fight back if we’re down.”
That mantra held true on a number of occasions, including three walk-off wins for the A’s. Chatham’s late inning magic began on July 6 when, after trailing 5-3 heading into the bottom of the eleventh, Tanner Gardner roped a three-run homerun onto the hill past right field to give the Anglers a 6-5 win over Wareham.
Almost two weeks later another Texas Tech product would give the A’s their second walk-off win of the month as Orlando Garcia ripped a fastball to the warning track in right, scoring the pinch-running Mathews from third, to propel Chatham to a 4-3 victory. The moment was a special one for Garcia, who had gone 0-for-4 with four strikeouts entering the at-bat, and was surreal for Mathews.
“I’ve got a lot of pitching memories from this summer and throughout my life but I don’t have a lot of base running memories on such a high stage as this,” said the Georgetown righty. “I foolishly went first to third on a groundball through the left side of the infield and somehow got underneath the tag. And then Orlando Garcia put together maybe the best at-bat I’ve ever seen,” added Mathews, laughing and beaming from ear to ear.
The Anglers parlayed the momentum from that win into a series of late rallies throughout the rest of the season. A week later against Yarmouth-Dennis, Chatham rallied from a 4-0 deficit in the top of the ninth to upend the eventual CCBL champions, 5-4, thanks to a two-out, three-run homerun by Stuart Fairchild (Wake Forest).
“The homerun against Y-D was the shining moment for me this season," said Fairchild. "But really every game was a bunch of fun playing with my teammates and playing against some of the best players in the country.”
The final walk-off was arguably the most important for the Anglers as Chatham entered the month of August looking to make a late-season push for the playoffs. After downing the eventual West Division Champion Falmouth Commodores on August 1, the A’s began a home-and-home series with Orleans Firebirds with the season on the line.
In the first of the two contests, the Anglers headed to extras deadlocked in a 1-1 tie with their rivals. Much like Garcia, Donovan Casey (Boston College) entered the final frame 0-for-4 with four strikeouts as he was set to lead off the bottom of the eleventh inning. Casey made amends and hammered the fourth pitch he saw over the wall in leftfield to spring the A’s into the final playoff spot with one game to go. The win proved to be the difference maker for the Anglers as Chatham qualified for the postseason with a Brewster loss the next day.
“There’s nothing better than a homerun walk-off,” said Schiffner. “Those two games will always be two of my favorite games. To beat Orleans to push us into the playoffs, that was incredible. The Tanner Gardner homerun after coming back there, the homerun over in Y-D, those were phenomenal, I’ll remember those because it just showed you that the team had that spunk.”
Though Chatham fell to Y-D in the East Division Final, the 2016 Anglers proved they were a character filled team with their never give up attitude and their willingness to continue to battle until the final out of the final game. Catcher Gunnar Troutwine (Wichita State) attributes that passionate fight to the tight-knit bond between every member of the A's.
“We played as a unit,” said the CCBL All-Star. “There were never really any cliques or groups on the team, we all got along together. . . .I really felt like that was apart of the games we won late.”
As the season came to an end with a loss to the Red Sox in Game 2 of the East Division Final, tears were shed as teammates said goodbye for the final time. As the lights shined down on Veterans Field one last time in the 2016 season, seemingly every member of the Anglers got a chance to say a final thank you to the entire Chatham organization.
“Just being here in this place every night, it really reminds you of what we love about the game,” said Simon Mathews, staring wistfully at the diamond. “This is the purest form of baseball and I’m just so incredibly grateful to have been given an opportunity to play here.”
From two All-Stars in Troutwine and Isaac Mattson (Pittsburgh) to determined leadoff hitters like Artis and Jake Palomaki (Boston College) to late season difference makers like Koppens and Garrett Whitlock (Alabama-Birmingham), the A’s were a team centered around the common goals set by their skipper at the beginning of the summer.
“We came here to get better, and we got better, we won some games, and I think you had the best summer of your lives,” said Schiffner in the end of the season huddle. “Mission accomplished.”