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ORLEANS — For twenty-eight consecutive innings of baseball, the Chatham Anglers failed to hold a lead over the Orleans Firebirds.
The stretch started on July 4 during first matchup between the sides and lasted over the course of four games before being broken Friday at Eldredge Park.
Once the streak broke, the floodgates opened. Chatham scored in four of the first six innings, winning the contest 4-0.
Blake Sabol (Southern California) jump-started the scoring with a two-out bomb to right-center field in the second inning. Despite Eldredge Park’s prodigious outfield dimensions — straight away center field is 434 feet away from home — Sabol was able to muscle a Shay Smiddy (Louisville) pitch over the wall.
“I tried laying down a bunt, trying to get a hit that way.” Sabol said. “I was trying to keep the inning going. Failed at bunting. He came back with another fastball and I was just trying to put a good swing on it.”
An inning later, Jake Taylor (Oklahoma State) was hit by a pitch to start the frame. John Rave (Illinois State), who singled into the 3-4 gap during the first inning, roped an identical base knock to put runners on the corners with no outs. Greg Jones (UNC Wilmington) knocked in Taylor with a sacrifice fly to double the Chatham lead.
In the fourth, the Anglers processed another run. To lead off the frame, Colin Simpson (Oklahoma State) one-hopped the outfield wall with his second double in as many games before Kyle McCann (Georgia Tech) advanced him to third with a groundball to the right side. Sabol then hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Simpson.
“We were able to manufacture runs today, which is something we have been struggling at doing throughout the season,” Sabol said. “We have been relying on the big fly a lot. Up and down the lineup, we hit the ball pretty well. We were putting pressure on them every inning.”
Chatham manufactured another run in the sixth. Michael Busch (North Carolina) slapped a leadoff single before advancing to second on a wild pitch in the dirt. Smiddy then tried to pick off Busch at second, but neither middle infielder Carter Aldrete (Arizona State) nor Sal Gozzo (Tulane) was covering the base, allowing Busch to cruise into third base.
A pitch after Smiddy’s wild pickoff attempt, Orleans’ infield played in and Drew Mendoza (Florida State) hit a grounder past Aldrete at second to add a fourth run.
While Chatham was grinding out runs in the top half of innings, Dan Hammer (Pittsburgh) was tossing zeros in the bottom half of innings. In six innings of work, the Philadelphia native had arguably his best performance in his two years as a Chatham Anglers player — no runs, three hits and four strikeouts.
Hammer ran into issues in the sixth after Orleans got a baserunner on in a strange series of events. Logan Wyatt (Louisville) grounded a ball right into Hammer’s cleat and ball bounced high into the air. Jorge Arenas (Stetson) tried to salvage the play, but his rushed throw was not able to nail Wyatt at first.
“[That play] fired me up a little and locked me in,” Hammer said. “Just wanted to get out of it and finish the inning.”
After an Aldrete punch out, JJ Bleday (Vanderbilt) barrelled a double into center field, but Wyatt was held up at third base. That set up a matchup between Hammer and Nick Osborne (Tennessee Tech) — one of the hottest hitters in the Cape League.
Against Osborne, Hammer threw two balls before the Tennessee Tech product fouled off two pitches. Hammer then threw an offspeed pitch outside and away and Osborne whiffed.
“I tried to attack him like anybody else,” Hammer said. “Really wasn't trying to strike him out there but made a good pitch and it worked.
Pitching coach Dennis Cook strolled out to the mound after the Osborne encounter. Cook kept Hammer in to complete the inning, a decision that proved to be astute. Hammer forced Pat DeMarco (Vanderbilt) into a 4-3 groundout to end the inning.
Jack Conlon (San Jacinto) came out of the bullpen for the final three innings and allowed only one baserunner.
The victory was the first for the A’s over the Firebirds this summer. It is also Chatham’s first victory over Orleans at Eldredge Park since a 2-1 win in 10 inning on June 25, 2015.
“That game gives you a good feeling,” Anglers manager Tom Holliday said. “That’s a good pickup for our ballclub.”