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COTUIT — As the heads of most Angler players tilted up, looking at Nick Gonzales’ home run extend past the Cotuit fence, Tom Holliday knew Tuesday’s four-run comeback couldn’t be a home run derby.
The Anglers don’t have power, and Tom Holliday is fine admitting that. His best bet for a long ball, Arizona State’s Spencer Torkelson, isn’t with the team yet. So Holliday’s “all-star lineup,” just two days into their first Cape Cod Baseball League experience, needed a way to come-from-behind for a second-straight night. Their answer: wait and walk.
“You have to know what you can and can't hit,” said Kaden Polcovich (Northwest Florida State), who walked once on Tuesday, “Seeing the ball up and as deep as you can.”
Against the Cotuit Kettleers (1-1) at Lowell Park, the Chatham Anglers (2-0) had more walks than hits. After Jack Conlon’s (Rice) pitching put them in a four-run hole, the A’s relied on quality at-bats and free bases. Coming off a league-high 193 walks in 2018, Holliday’s emphasized that more than ever with over a dozen players absent from the roster. On Tuesday, Chatham’s seven walks propelled them to a 7-6 win in eight innings.
“Walks are how you score a lot of runs against wooden bats,” Holliday said. “It's hard to score a lot of base hits.”
But before the A’s could get through their lineup one time, Conlon allowed two runs in each of the first two innings. When Conlon’s first pitch fastball made it through the hole to left field, he became “very apprehensive,” Holliday said. Through his first three batters, the bases were already loaded.
Conlon relied with his fastball despite the baserunners — opting away from breaking pitches to start — which kept the ball in the air. When his fastball missed its intended location in the second inning, Conlon went down the middle. Gonzales, a .432 hitter at New Mexico State, smacked the pitch over the yellow padding of Cotuit’s right-field fence.
“He was in trouble from the first pitch he threw,” Holliday said. “He could've give up six runs.”
Out of the home run, Conlon got his first strikeout in 12 batters and slowly walked toward the dugout, looking away from Holliday, When they locked eyes, Holliday wiggled his finger and pulled him toward the step to talk.
Paxton Wallace (Wichita State) walked to open the third, and after a Drenis Ozuna (Oklahoma Wesleyan) double, back-to-back sacrifice flies cut the lead in half. When Holliday moved away from Conlon in the fourth, part of Holliday’s three-by-three inning pitching rotation, the pops of the Cotuit bats quieted.
To overcome Conlon’s shaky outing, the Anglers needed to get runners in scoring position. But Chatham wasn’t hitting the ball well either with just six hits on the day. Yet, the opportunities came from walks.
Charlie Welch (Pepperdine) made it on after five pitches to get Jamal O’Guinn (USC) to second. But like Monday — a come-from-behind 5-4 win in which the Anglers stranded 15 baserunners — Chatham couldn’t capitalize. Lefty Hadyn King (UNLV) did what Conlon couldn’t, and kept the deficit intack. When he returned to the dugout at the end of the sixth, there were no words with Holliday like Conlon. Just a nod.
“He's the reason we won the game,” Holliday said about King. “He stopped them for 3 innings.”
In the seventh, the Chatham bats awoke deep in counts, some that lasted up to seven pitches. Ozuna doubled again, and Polcovich, the hero of Monday’s game, lifted a breaking ball feet from the left field fence — the closest the Anglers have seen to a home run in its first two contests of the season.
“You gotta be able to move guys over early,” Polcovich said, “and trust the guys to put good swings on balls."
With its first lead of the game at 5-4, the A’s loaded the bases again off a pair of walks. And as Cotuit manager Mike Roberts made his third pitching change of the inning, a third-consecutive freebie, five pitches thrown to Adan Fernandez (Florida International), walked in a fourth run of the inning.
But in the bottom of the inning, the Kettleers moved the tying run to scoring position off a double steal. Following a ball and the shouts of A’s fans who thought it should’ve been a called strike, Cotuit’s Casey Schmitt sliced a ball to left to tie the game at six.
As the dark neared at Lowell Park, a stadium with no lights, Ozuna faced a 0-2 count. Four pitches later, he jogged 90 feet to first. Two batters later, Polcovich fouled off two straight until he laid off the fourth ball in the dirt.
When the bases were loaded — two runners courtesy of walks — O’Guinn only swung once. The four other pitches, he sat back. The free base gave the A’s a 7-6 lead, one it wouldn’t lose.
Despite the seven walks, Holliday still isn’t thrilled. He still thinks a lot of his players are swinging at 2-0 and 3-1 counts when they shouldn’t be. Not overthink and not overswing.
“The game is not designed to hit 93 mph fastballs up in your chest,” Holliday said. “I don't care how much you're told to, it's not a good pitch to chase.”
He just wants his team to keep it simple.
Said Holliday: “The game gets a lot easier when the other team is helping you.”