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Chatham, Mass. — It lingered. A taste that grew pleasant, sweet before turning sour. Towards a bitter end.
As night fell over Veterans Field, right fielder Josh Stowers (Louisville) swirled his bat above home plate.
“I was down on the count, so I kind of knew what to look for,” Stowers said. “He threw the pitch, and I was ready to put a good swing on it.”
Stowers surged, and a hollow echo rang in the air. The ball soared over the left field fence, taking Orleans left fielder Brandon Riley (North Carolina) with it, lunging for the catch. Riley’s glove was left empty as he turned upwards over the wall, landing on the ground beneath the scoreboard.
Stowers and third baseman John Aiello (Wake Forest) jogged around the diamond to an ovation from the audience, completing the journey home to meet a sea of cheers from the dugout.
The Anglers had mounted a lead of three over the Orleans Firebirds. First baseman Nick Patten (Delaware) plated Aiello on a smooth knock out to center field for Chatham’s breakout run in the second.
But it was all too easy as the ride came to a sharp jolt in the sixth. A game-tying pair of home runs from Orleans’ Jaxx Groshans (Kansas) and Austin Hale (Stetson) left the park dumbfounded.
The Anglers slipped further as three Firebirds crossed the plate in the following inning.
“It’s just a matter of trying to get off the field with two outs, and just not letting them mount a rally,” Stowers said. “It’s pretty much just the name of the game, just when you get two outs, you’ve got to get off the field.”
Catcher Shea Langeliers (Baylor) gave the Anglers a spark of hope in the eighth, sending left fielder Jake Palomaki (Boston College) home on a smooth double to center field. But Chatham’s offense buckled at the hands of Orleans reliever JT Hintzen (Florida Southern) in the bottom of the ninth, leaving victory out of reach.
On the mound, starting pitcher Joe Lienhard (Oklahoma State) paralysed the Firebirds, striking out five over four scoreless frames.
Nick Rand (Massachusetts Lowell) also kept a blank slate, stepping in for Reiss Knehr (Fordham) in the final stanza. Dan Hammer (Pittsburgh) made a two-inning outing in relief of Lienhard.
“We’ve been playing good baseball, we just haven’t had the result,” Stowers said. “We probably just need to have a couple more timely hits and a little less mental mistakes on the defensive side of the ball, but I think we’re right where we need to be.”
The Anglers enter the playoffs as the fourth seed in the East Division, after an 11-10 Brewster (21-21-2) victory over the Harwich Mariners (15-28-1) secured the third place seat for the Whitecaps Thursday.
“In the middle of the game we made some changes, because we knew we were going to finish fourth,” manager John Schiffner said. “We’re fine. We’ll be prepared to go.”
The Anglers open the first round of playoff competition against the Firebirds Saturday at Eldredge Park, Orleans. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.