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CHATHAM — It should have been the third out.
One pitch after Tristin English (Georgia Tech) tied Game 2 of the EDS at five with a two-run double in the fourth, Colin Simpson (Oklahoma State) swung at the first pitch from Joe La Sorsa (St. John’s) and hit a routine fly ball to left field.
Instead of finding the gold-colored Rawlings glove of Harwich left fielder Nate Eikhoff (Virginia) or the two-toned, black-and-brown-colored glove of center fielder Ben Norman, Simpson’s strike found the shortly trimmed grass of the outfield.
Halfway through the path of Simpson’s fly ball, Eikhoff began flailing his arms, an indication he had lost the ball in the Oxford blue sky. Norman — who was shading the right-center gap — could not provide backup in time. The baseball dropped in between a lost Eikhoff and a jogging Norman.
Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State) and English scored on the play, completing a five-run comeback and give Chatham the 7-5 lead. The Anglers (2-0) would not trail again as they went on to win 8-6 over the Mariners (2-0) to win the East Division Series.
"I thought it was a route flyout so just I started jogging down to first base and I toss my bat," Simpson said. "I look up and I hear our first base coach yelling ‘He doesn’t see it.’"
Down 5-3 to start the fourth inning, John Rave (Illinois State) drew a four-pitch, one-out walk. Blake Sabol then pulled a 3-2 fastball from Caleb Freeman (Texas Tech) into an opening on the right side of the infield for a single. Freeman then walked Torkelson to load the bases and was promptly replaced by La Sorsa.
The southpaw managed to strikeout Michael Busch (North Carolina) for the second out, but English then doubled home Rave and Sabol to tie the game before Simpson gave the A’s the advantage.
After a smooth first inning that featured two strikeouts, things got shaky for Chatham starter Alek Manoah (West Virginia) in the second inning. A leadoff single from Logan Driscoll (George Mason) followed by a Steven Passatempo (UMass Lowell) hit-by-pitch put two runners on with no outs. Nate Eikhoff (Virginia) singled home Driscoll and then Passatempo scored on a wild pitch before Danny Casals (Maine) hit a single of his own.
Manoah struck out Ben Norman (Iowa) for the first out, but that was only a slight bump in the road. With runners on the corners, Tanner Morris (Virginia) shattered his bat on a weak groundball to the left side. Greg Jones (UNC Wilmington) collected the ball but his throw to get Casals at second sailed into right field as Eikhoff scored. Aaron Schunk (Georgia) doubled down into the left-field corner to score two more and give the Mariners a five-run lead.
Chatham immediately responded in the third inning. John Rave (Illinois State), Blake Sabol (Southern California) and Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State) hit three consecutive singles to begin the inning and all three players came around to score. Rave scored on Torkelson’s single while Sabol and Torkelson crossed home plate on a Colin Simpson (Oklahoma State) single to right-center.
Holliday told Manoah after the second inning that he was done for the evening. But after the A's started scoring runs in the third, Manoah walked up to his manager.
"I went to [Holliday] and I was like 'Man, these guys are fighting for me. Let me go for fight for them. Don’t let me leave with that taste in my mouth,'" Manoah said. "He trusted and me and they kept scoring runs so I just kept feeding off of that."
After the Mariners cut the lead to one in the bottom of the sixth inning on an RBI single from Casals, Chatham regained a two-run advantage a half-inning later.
Simpson started the frame with an opposite-field double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Jorge Arenas (Stetson) lined a ball to Andre Lipcius (Tennessee) at first base, who caught the ball on the fly. Lipcius tried to double up Simpson at third, but the cross-diamond throw was wild and bounced into the Harwich bullpen. Simpson jogged home easily for Chatham’s eighth run of the game.
Other than the five-run second inning and one-run sixth, Manoah was tough to hit. In total, Manoah struck out 11 batters — the most any pitcher has accumulated in a playoff game since former Chatham pitcher Simon Mathews (Georgetown) downed 11 hitters against the Harwich Mariners in Game 1 of the 2016 EDS on August 5, 2016. He said that his success resulted from a change in approach.
"I think its well known that I throw dominantly fastballs," Manoah said. "The fastball was there and they were just hitting it so I had to mix up my offspeed a little quick then I usually do. I went out for the third inning and I started doing that and thats when the fastball played up."
Jack Conlon (San Jacinto) replaced Manoah but lasted only two-and-a-half batters before he was relieved by CJ Dandeneau (Connecticut). Dandeneau entered the game with Aaron Schunk (Georgia) on second base and a 2-0 count on Lipcius. Dandeneau dropped a looping curveball to Schunk and never looked back.
He got the Anglers out of the seventh unscathed, struck out two batters in a one-two-three eighth inning and retired the side in the ninth. His last pitch of the game was a 3-2 curveball against that was called for strike three. Dandeneau said it was his best pitch of the game.
"It seems easy, two outs in the last inning with no one on base." Dandeneau said. "But if the guy gets on there, the whole momentum changes. To get that last guy out was important."
With the series victory, the A’s advance to the East Division Championship Series where they will play the Brewster Whitecaps (2-0). Brewster — the No. 4 seed in the East Division playoffs — upset the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox to win their EDS matchup. Brewster won Game 2, 5-4, in South Yarmouth on Sunday before using an eight-run eighth inning Monday to blowout Y-D, 12-2, and eliminate the Red Sox from the playoffs.
Holliday said he was not sure how the team would react when Manoah is out of sync. He was happy with the response.
"I was a little bit concerned about if Manoah’s out of gas, whats it going to do to the rest of them," Holliday said. "And it showed you, they are not ready to go home yet."