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CHATHAM — The Chatham Anglers were on the wrong end of a cruising Ricky DeVito (Seton Hall). Despite allowing a Michael Busch (North Carolina) single and Greg Jones (UNC Wilmington) walk, the Harwich Mariners hurler had retired five batters, striking out three.
Then, Kyle McCann (Georgia Tech) blew the game wide open.
With two outs in the bottom of the second, McCann cranked an opposite-field two-run homer to give the A’s a one-run lead. The long ball brought life to Veterans Field and ignited Chatham’s offense, which was sluggish to start Game 1 of the East Division Series. After the homer, DeVito no longer looked like the Mariners’ ace.
“I was asking what [DeVito] had, and they were telling me offspeed,” McCann said about what he heard from his teammates about DeVito. “He threw me two, three fastballs, and I was just waiting on the next fastball, and he threw me it. I really don't hit many opposite-field home runs. When I hit it, I knew it was gone.”
Over the next 1.1 innings, DeVito conceded two hits, three runs, three hit-by-pitches and a walk. Chatham (1-0) used DeVito’s struggles to build a lead it never surrendered as it defeated Harwich (0-1), 8-3, in Game 1 of the East Division Series on Sunday at Veterans Field.
While DeVito started the game strong, Anglers starter Austin Bergner (North Carolina) was shaky.
The Chatham right-hander led off the game with a five-pitch walk to Tanner Morris (Virginia). After advancing to second on a groundout, Morris came home on an Alex Tappen (Virginia) RBI single to right field to put the visitors ahead before the A’s registered an at-bat. Sunday’s first inning marked the first time Bergner walked a batter or surrendered a run in the opening frame this season.
“Tonight I didn't have my stuff but I at least felt good,” Bergner said. “You have to look at it and say 'Ok, this is what I have' instead of trying to make your curveball better, your changeup better. You have to stay within yourself.”
From then on, Bergner illustrated why he was chosen to take the mound in Chatham’s playoff opener. The Florida native retired 12 consecutive batters from the start of the second inning to the end of the fifth. Bergner used his trademark fastball, which topped out at 94 miles per hour, to strike out seven Harwich batters.
But Bergner’s day ended just as it started — with frustration. With Ben Norman (Iowa) on third base, the right-hander was called for a balk for double-pumping his left leg, allowing Norman to stroll home with the Mariners’ second run. Bergner and Holliday protested the call, but home plate umpire Jeff Merzel would not budge.
“That was unseen, uncalled for,” Holliday said. “You're allowed to double-pump at any time, [Merzel] said you couldn't with a runner on third. That's not true. I'm going to get a rulebook and look it up.”
As Bergner sculpted a solid outing, the Anglers’ bats went to work, with some assistance from DeVito. Busch led off the bottom of the third with a hit-by-pitch before Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State) walked. With two outs, John Rave (Illinois State) blooped a single over the head of third baseman Aaron Schunk (Georgia) and inches fair, scoring Busch.
DeVito then imploded even further. The right-hander plunked Greg Jones (UNC Wilmington) and McCann during back-to-back at-bats, forcing in Torkelson and handing the home team a three-run lead. After Blake Sabol (Southern California) led off the next inning with a solo-homer, DeVito was gone, as Luke Scherzer (Virginia Tech) took over on the mound.
“[Hit-by-pitches and] walks are going to get pitchers worn out, their velocities are going to drop,” Holliday said. “You keep giving us opportunities to go around our batting order until we get the right guys to the plate.”
The Anglers tallied three runs the final five frames. First, a Busch long ball — his seventh of the year — pushed Chatham’s lead back to four in the sixth before an RBI base knock by Sabol did the same in the seventh. A passed ball by Scherzer in the eighth allowed Busch to stroll home to score the A’s eighth and final run.
The Mariners worked two runs from Bergner’s balk in the sixth and a Danny Casals (Maine) RBI single in the seventh to reach three runs on the night. Chatham’s Zack Noll (Point Loma Nazarene) and Reeves Martin (New Orleans) closed out the final three innings.
Holliday said it was the combination of several different contributors on offense that propelled the team to victory and will make the Anglers hard to beat.
"Between Busch, Simpson, Sabol and McCann, we have some real, raw left-handed power,” Holliday said. “My batting order is set. If you're going to beat us, you better beat us with good stuff."