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CHATHAM — Zarion Sharpe (UNC Wilmington) had retired his first seven hitters without any issue — four strikeouts, a commanding fastball that struck out four Falmouth hitters. But with one out in the top of the ninth, what appeared to be a routine cover play at first, spoiled a stellar Chatham pitching night.
After an attempted bare hand at first, Sharpe threw a wild pitch on the first delivery of the next at-bat. Falmouth’s Austin Langworthy glided easily into second base. The UNC Wilmington lefty delivered another pitch, and it squirted past the glove of catcher Charlie Welch (Pepperdine). Langworthy advanced to third, the go-ahead run now just 90 feet away. One swing later, Steven Moretto's deep fly-out to center field gave the Commodores a lead — the only run of the night in Falmouth’s (2-0) 1-0 win against Chatham (2-1) in the home-opener at Veterans Field.
In the first two games of the 2019 season, Chatham rallied from behind, in part, because the other teams gave away walks, the A’s returned the favor to Falmouth on a dropped ball that triggered an “ugly run.” Through eight innings, the A’s trio of pitchers, Jeremy Wu-Yelland (Hawaii), Cole Ayers (Kentucky) and Sharpe shut down the Commodores.
Chatham's bats never provided the late-inning spark that they produced in the opening two games. Against Hyannis and Cotuit, the Anglers scored nine runs in the seventh inning or later. Wednesday, they went out with a whimper.
“That was a really well pitched game. It was a good game to watch, bad game to lose,” Holliday said. “There was some pretty good cheddar coming out there from the 5th inning. Welcome to the Cape.”
The Anglers best chance to score came in the sixth, after newcomer Vincenzo Bologna (San Jaoquin Delta) earned a nine-pitch leadoff walk. When Jorge Arenas (Stetson) singled through the hole between shortstop and third base immediately after, Chatham had the top of the order up. Bologna, like every other Chatham hitter Wednesday night, never reached third base.
Tyler Doanes (West Virginia) tried to bunt the first pitch but popped the high and tight fastball behind the catcher. He popped out two pitches later. Colin Hall (Georgia Tech) hit the ball hard on the first pitch of the ensuing at-bat, directly to the waiting left fielder. After Kaden Polcovich (Northwest Florida State) also flew out, the A’s lost their best scoring opportunity — the only time a runner was in scoring position with less than two outs.
“We faced a lot of velocity, and I thought we chased a ball or two that were outside of the strike zone,” Holliday said. “We need to tighten the strike zone a bit, these pitchers are too good to be chasing high fastballs.”
Chatham managed just three baserunners in the final three innings. Ben Ramirez (USC) had the hardest hit A’s ball of the night, smashing a 1-1 fastball into right-center field with two outs in the seventh. The ball one-hopped the fence and Ramirez set himself up in scoring position. Drenis Ozuna (Oklahoma Wesleyan), after a two-hit, three-run night in Chatham’s comeback win over Cotuit on Tuesday, struck out after two straight swings and misses on fastballs from 3-1 in the count.
Doanes nubbed a two-out dribbler down the third base line that stayed fair and split both the catcher and third baseman. On the next pitch, Doanes was thrown out at second to end the inning.
“The slow bats are partially our fault. We’re trying to get them used to wood,” Holliday said. “They wanna hit, they wanna hit, when you turn to muscle when you get tired.”
Instead of spotting the opposing team runs, as they did in the first two games, Wu-Yelland blanked Falmouth. The left-hander walked Steven Moretto (Sacramento State) with one out in the second, and after a perfectly placed bunt that dribbled up the third base line, Falmouth had two runners on.
Wu-Yelland forced weak dribblers on the next two hitters, one to O’Guinn at first, one right back to him. Despite increased pressure in the third inning as Hayden Cantrelle advanced to second and stole third with less than two outs, Wu-Yelland never blinked. He struck out the side, including two strikeouts on full counts.
“It’s all about rhythm for me and really getting into that grove,” Wu-Yelland said. “My fastball, I’m going to throw it 0-0, in 2 strike counts, and to get ahead.”
Cole Ayers (Kentucky) came in after him, and was just as dominant. Despite Holliday’s concerns over his lack of recent innings, Ayers threw three more shutout innings by forcing pop outs and striking out five.
“The guys that didn’t pitch a lot this year, they didn’t act like it,” Holliday said. “Ayers was great, Sharpe was sharp.”
Until a dropped ball, passed ball and a wild pitch in the ninth inning, Sharpe threw three innings, motoring through the first two with three strikeouts and two weak ground balls.
But on a night when the Anglers’ hitting approach was ineffective and their swings were slow, one Chatham mistake cost them a third win.