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CHATHAM — A day after picking up a loss on the mound, John McMillon (Texas Tech) was featured as the designated hitter Wednesday in the seven-hole.
He struck out in his first two at-bats, but came up in the sixth with the game knotted at two. McMillon fell behind 0-2 in the count, but fouled a pitch off and watched a ball go by to work a 1-2 count. The left-handed slugger turned on the next pitch, sending the ball deep into the foggy night and the fans at Veterans Field into jubilation.
“He was mixing early,” McMillon said. “I fouled off a slider with two strikes, got down 0-2 and then I saw a fastball up and saw another fastball and was able to put a good swing on it.”
McMillon’s first home run of the season broke the deadlock and highlighted the Chatham Anglers’ (19-17-2) five-run sixth inning that sparked a 6-3 victory over the Harwich Mariners (16-20-2). With Brewster’s loss earlier in the day, Chatham officially clinched its spot in the playoffs.
After McMillon’s round-tripper, Chatham’s offense came alive. Greg Jones (UNC Wilmington) singled to center and then advanced to third when center fielder Nate Eikhoff (Virginia) misplayed the ball. Jones then scored when Ramirez reached base on an error.
Blake Sabol (Southern California) and John Rave (Illinois State) then roped back-to-back singles, with Rave’s scoring Ramirez. Sabol scored the fifth run of the inning when George Kirby (Elon) balked with the CCBL All-Star on third base.
Colin Simpson (Oklahoma State) had tied the game earlier in the inning with a long ball of his own. With a 3-1 count, Simpson blasted a ball over the right-field wall for his third homer of the season.
“He couldn't throw a strike to start the at-bat,” “I got swing away on the 3-0 count. I just didn’t feel comfortable on the pitch so I took it and got it to a 3-1 count. He left the ball right over the middle of the plate, I put a good swing on it and it left the yard.”
“Once I hit that home run, everyone relaxed,” Simpson said. “Everybody stopped pressing. Everybody just went to plate and swung relaxed and swung easy.”
Despite going hitless for four-plus innings, Chatham managed to score the first run of the game in the third inning. Jones started the frame with a walk — his fifth free pass in the past six games — then advanced to second on a hit-and-run from Ramirez that resulted in a groundout.
Blake Sabol (Southern California) hit a groundball to second baseman Jordan Greene (Clemson). Greene was in position to make the play, but the ball hit off the lip of his glove and dribbled away to his left. Jones saw the error and dashed for home, crossing the plate without a throw.
Harwich took the lead in the fifth. The inning began with a familiar, scary sight for the Anglers — a leadoff walk. In the previous two games, Cotuit and Brewster had scored in five different innings. Four of those innings began with a walk.
This time, Ben Norman (Iowa) drew the base on balls. Another walk from Greene and a single from Tanner Morris (Virginia) loaded the bases for Aaron Schunk (Georgia). Schunk hit a bouncing ball to Jones at shortstop, but the rising sophomore could not handle it, allowing Norman and Greene to score.
Harwich tacked on another run in the eighth but was not able to cultivate a rally that threatened Chatham’s lead.
In his fourth start of the year, Jeff Belge (St. John’s) thew 4.2 innings, allowing only two hits and three walks while striking out seven. Greg Veliz (Miami) replaced Belge for the Schunk at-bat and the rest of the game. Veliz — who is leaving Thursday and returning to Miami — finished his final appearance for Chatham with five strikeouts in 4.1 innings.
“Belge is the one that did it, he kept them off the scoreboard,” Anglers manager Tom Holliday said. “I though their run early was ugly. We still made a couple of defensive blunders when Veliz was pitching. He recovered, came back and wiped it out.”
The A’s are the second team in the league to clinch a playoff spot after the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. Chatham is currently in second place in the East Division, 10 points behind Y-D and six points ahead of Harwich.
Holliday said he is not going to harp on clinching the playoffs and is more focused securing the second spot in the East Division playoffs.
“Small victories are good and you have to enjoy that but we have a greater expectation than that,” Holliday said. “I don't want the kids just to be happy to get in the playoffs. That’s not what this has been all about. We are way, way too good to settle for that.”