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CHATHAM — With one out in the top of the fifth inning, the Bourne Braves eight-hitter Tyler Fitzgerald (Louisville) faced an 0-2 count. The right-handed hitter had fouled off consecutive fastballs from the Chatham Anglers starter Austin Bergner (North Carolina) and was in danger of becoming the Chatham hurler’s seventh strikeout victim of the night.
Bergner didn’t move a muscle of his 6-foot-5 frame before jolting his left knee up and firing the pitch. The heater flew past Fitzgerald, who stood motionless as home plate umpire Dan Boomhauer rung him up for strike three. Fitzgerald wiggled his knees, glanced at Boomhauer and slumped his way back to the visitor’s dugout.
“Well when I watch Bergner pitch, I think he's one of those guys you want to sit and watch,” A’s manager Tom Holliday said. “I see a big leaguer. Those kinds of arms are so hard to find.”
The hopelessness of Fitzgerald was a microcosm of Bourne’s struggles against Bergner, whose eight strikeouts propelled the Anglers (13-12-2) past the Braves (13-12-1), 5-3, on a picturesque Thursday night at Veterans Field. The Chatham victory marks its fourth against Bourne this summer, completing the season sweep.
Bergner got into trouble early, allowing a double and single to the first two batters of the game, but recovered with two strikeouts and a flyout to escape the inning unscathed. With his fastball topping at 95 miles per hour, Bergner used the heater to get ahead of Bourne hitters, tossing 17-of-23 first-pitch strikes.
“I honestly kind of like running into stuff that early,” Bergner said. “It just kind of makes me dial it up a notch.”
While the Braves failed to cash in their first-inning chances, the Anglers succeeded.
In the bottom of the frame, Greg Jones (UNC Wilmington) cracked a single in his first at-bat since injuring his wrist on June 7. After a Blake Sabol (Southern California) strikeout, Michael Busch (North Carolina) scorched a two-run, two-out home run beyond the center field fence.
“Busch’s home run was exactly what Bergner did on the mound,” Holliday said. “Busch’s home run was a big league swing. That was major league contact.”
Chatham’s bats stayed active in the next few innings. In the second, Colin Simpson (Oklahoma State) walked and Ben Ramirez (Southern California) singled, setting up leadoff hitter John Rave (Illinois State). Rave punched a looping single inches beyond the glove of Bourne first baseman Spencer Brickhouse (East Carolina), scoring Simpson.
The A’s added two more runs in the bottom of the fourth. Drew Mendoza (Florida State) led off the inning with a double to the right-center field gap before Simpson tacked on a two-bagger of his own for his sixth RBI of the summer. Three batters later, Rave dribbled a single to the outskirts of the infield, scoring Simpson and extending the Chatham lead to five.
Bergner’s outing got better as the night progressed. The Florida native faced the minimum of three batters in three consecutive innings, including throwing just 16 pitches combined in the fourth and fifth innings.
“He's one of the best pitchers that I've ever played with and even played against,” Busch, Bergner’s college teammate, said. “I think he's kind of expected to do that every time he goes out, and I think he expects that from himself. Even though it doesn't surprise me, it’s still entertaining.”
After cruising through the Braves’ batters after the first inning, Bergner was forced to work in the sixth. The North Carolina product allowed an infield single before surrendering two walks to load the bases.
Within a strike of completing his sixth scoreless inning, Bergner’s two-strike fastball was met by the bat of Jared Triolo (Houston). Triolo skipped a grounder to Jones at shortstop, who could not handle the ball as it made its way to the outfield. Bergner’s head dropped in disappointment as two runs scored and his scoreless outing vanished.
“I look at it same way as the first inning,” Bergner said about the sixth inning. “I ran into a little trouble and got ground balls and did my job and some things happened. We look back and focus on the positive.”
Troy Miller (Michigan) and Greg Veliz (Miami) provided 3.1 innings of one-hit ball in relief, combining to strike out five. A one-out double and stolen base by Fitzgerald allowed the Louisville product to come home on a Thad Phillips (Connecticut) groundout in the ninth inning.
After getting retired in order in the fifth and sixth innings, the A’s threatened in the following two frames but could not score. Chatham stranded five runners on base in the seventh and eighth innings, including squandering a bases-loaded opportunity with one out in the eighth.