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CHATHAM — The night was all but over. After possessing a four-run lead in the top of the fifth, the Gatemen were on the verge of losing their lead, as an offensive surge by the Anglers broke out in the bottom of the inning.
First, it was an RBI single by Tristin English (Georgia Tech) to put the home team on the board. Three batters later, Ben Ramirez (Southern California) hit what should have been a double-play ball to Wareham shortstop Bryson Stott (UNLV), but a wild throw to first base allowed two more Chatham runners to score. All of a sudden, a comfortable four-run lead turned into a tense one-run game.
But the Anglers never got its equalizing run. Rather, they gave up a flurry of runs, highlighted by a grand slam by Wareham’s Andrew Vaughn (California) in the top of the ninth.
A seven-run ninth inning gave the Gatemen (1-0) a blowout Opening Day victory over the Anglers (0-1), 12-4, the first game of the Tom Holliday era in Chatham after John Schiffner’s 25-year tenure came to a close at the conclusion of the 2017 season.
"All of a sudden it's an ugly game. That's the game of baseball,” Chatham manager Tom Holliday said. “As tight as it is, one swing blows it open. They got it tonight and we didn't.”
To open the 2018 campaign, Anglers’ starting pitcher Alek Manoah (West Virginia) and the Chatham defense underwent a rusty top of the first inning.
The home team fell behind 3-0 before it had a single at-bat, and all three runs were unearned. An error by shortstop Greg Jones (UNC-Wilmington), who went on to make several acrobatic plays later in the game, loaded the bases for the visitors.
Two batters later, a passed ball by Manoah brought Skyler Hunter (Purdue) home, and, on the next pitch, Stott singled to drive in two more. Although Manoah caught a rhythm in the coming innings before concluding his day after the fourth inning, succumbing three runs to open the game — and season — was something he will put behind him.
“You can't worry about what you can't control,” Manoah said regarding Chatham’s errors leading to unearned runs. “I felt good. [Next start] it’ll be a matter of commanding both sides of the plate. There were a couple [today] that were too high or too low, that kinda messes up the game plan.”
As the sun began to set on Veterans Field in the fourth inning, the Anglers’ bats came alive. As a result, so did the crowd of 500-plus supporters.
The catalyst was Ramirez, who singled to open the bottom of the inning, stole second base and advanced to third on a poor throw by Wareham catcher Luke Roskam (Nebraska). In the fifth, Chatham’s momentum carried over as contributions from English and Ramirez brought the home team within one.
“I was just trying to get comfortable. [These were] the first couple live at-bats all of us have had in a couple weeks,” Ramirez said. “To get the number of hits we did, it was a good performance in my opinion.”
Despite the discrepancy in the final score, the two sides each registered 10 hits apiece. Seven Anglers tallied a hit, while Ramirez, English and Kyle McCann (Georgia Tech) each had two. But, as Holliday said, Chatham’s hits weren’t timely, while Wareham’s were.
What was a one-run game to start the ninth inning rapidly turned into a rout. Vaughn’s grand slam off Cam Jabara (Orange Coast) extended the visitor’s lead to five. By this time, many of those who came out for Opening Day had begun their journey back home, as what was once a spectacular orange sunset had evolved into dusk. The silence of the crowd matched that of the Chatham dugout as Wareham tacked on two more to extend its lead to eight.
Although it was not how Holliday hoped his managerial debut on the Cape would go, he remained hopeful, stating how the end result was not reflective of the happenings of the game.
“Had we tied it, we're going to our closer. We were one run away from that,” Holliday said. “Some days you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. And the bear got us in the ninth.”
Chatham will resume play on Wednesday at 5 p.m. with game two of its season against the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.