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Chatham, Mass. — It was electric. Each movement was like a spark, fueling the flames of a fire that burned with urgency. Like do or die.
As a pink sunset fell over Veterans Field, the Anglers (22-24, 1-1) fought to stay alive against the Orleans Firebirds (30-16, 1-1) before a record-sized crowd. Swarms of fans packed the bleachers and the outfield hill, setting out their blankets and chairs hours prior in order to watch the spectacle. They would not be disappointed.
When a throw came home from first baseman Nick Patten (Delaware) in the second inning, a frenzy of confusion followed. Catcher Cody Roberts (North Carolina) attempted to apply a tag to Brandon Shearer (Loyola Marymount), which the home plate umpire Mark Ottavianelli ruled as safe despite being indeterminately close. The call was hotly contested by Chatham manager John Schiffner, who left the dugout and argued down at Ottavianelli behind the dish.
The run kick-started a determination in the Anglers, who responded almost immediately in the bottom of the second. Patten plated third baseman John Aiello (Wake Forest) on a groundout to an ovation from the audience.
The tension of the tie was stiffening, until Chatham showed some life in the fifth. Right fielder Kyle Baker (Delaware) set the stage, advancing two into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. From there, Roberts hustled home on a wild pitch, and center fielder Josh Stowers (Louisville) plated shortstop Jeremy Peña (Maine) on a groundout to wild cheers from spectators.
“We got the important things done — we executed when we had to, we didn’t make any bad plays and we got great pitching,” Schiffner said. “That’s what you have to do in playoffs, and that’s what we did.”
On the mound, a trio of Anglers kept Chatham’s heart beating. Adam Wolf (Louisville) and Jack DeGroat (Liberty) combined to shut Orleans down over four innings in relief of starter Austin Bergner (North Carolina).
“[I was comfortable with my] fastball for the most part,” Wolf said. “My off-speed was a little shaky, so I tried to stick with the fastball as much as I could.”
Wolf struck out three over a trio of frames.
Starter Bergner peppered Orleans with strikes, sending six Firebirds back to the dugout with their heads down. The audience began to clap in rhythm as Bergner faced Shearer with a loaded diamond in the third, erupting as he sliced the zone with the final strike to escape the jam.
“Everyone was pretty loose, everyone was at the realization if we don’t win, this is going to be our last game,” Wolf said. “So we just kind of came at it, had fun — the mentality was great.”
“I told them, when they get to the playoffs, it’s special with Chatham and Orleans — it’s a special crowd, it’s a whole different thing,” Schiffner said. “It’s just a great atmosphere — that was a tremendous baseball game, win or lose for anybody.”
The Anglers face the Firebirds in the final game of the series at Eldredge Park, Orleans Monday. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.