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Ryan Cusick couldn’t miss his spots — swing-after-swing, strikeout-after-strikeout befuddled the Anglers hitters. All Chatham could do against Cusick, Bourne’s right-hander from Wake Forest, was shake their heads and tread to the dugout.
“Tonight is about the best I’ve seen him,” Cusick’s dad, Bill, said. “He really put it together tonight.”
Five scoreless innings from Cusick that saw only two batters reach scoring position quieted Chatham for most of Sunday’s second game, hours after their best offensive game of the season. Following the A’s 8-2 win in game one, Cusick shut down the A’s with a hard-moving slider to fan righties and a sinking changeup to put away lefties.
“He was throwing all of his pitches for strikes,” said Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State), who went 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Cusick.
When Cusick left, the Chatham’s bats woke up against Kieran Shaw, the first of two Braves relievers. A two-run sixth inning cut a four-run lead in half, but the Anglers (6-4-1) resurgence came too late in a 4-2 loss to the Bourne Braves (4-5).
Trying to replicate its success earlier — six hits, three extra base hits and eight walks in Sunday’s first game — five of the first six Chatham batters ended their opening at-bat swinging at air. Kaden Polcovich (Northwest Florida State) went down on a fastball, Torkelson swung early at a 74 mph breaking ball after hesitating and Anthony Vilar (Miami) couldn’t find contact on a full count fastball to end the second.
Kolby Kubichek (Texas), the starter for the A’s, was getting outs too, but on the ground. The Braves’ first five hitters all chopped balls in the infield, but two identical swings rolled balls down the third base line near Kubichek. On both, the right-hander gathered and chose to throw to first baseman Alex Toral (Miami). On both, they sailed over his head. The second one, a run came in to score from second base.
“Guys have to take their defense as seriously as they take their offense,” Holliday said. “The struggle is on.”
A double from Bourne began the next inning, and two hitters later, a ground ball to Toral led to an early 2-0 deficit.
On Saturday, the A’s faced the same situation — down 2-0 in the first two frames — and recovered with four unanswered runs, topped off by a Ben Ramirez (USC) home run. In the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader, an A’s comeback wouldn’t come as long as Cusick was in the game.
“His fastball had a little bit of late life. Even 2-0 counts we were missing heaters by far,” O’Guinn said. “We just didn’t adjust and he kept us off balance.”
A Brady Smith (Florida) single broke Cusick’s rhythm to start the third, but he quickly rebounded on the mound. Colin Hall (Georgia Tech) slid to scoring position on a stolen base, but a Polcovich pop out ended the inning.
“He was throwing his pitches really well,” Torkelson said, “so you have to tip your cap to him. We’ll get him next time.”
When Cusick faced Torkelson and Jamal O’Guinn (USC) in the fourth, both who homered in the first game, he got them to groundout. Cole Ayers (State College of Florida) came in relief, and quieted the Bourne offense, but the Braves pitcher stayed on the mound.
Cusick had almost no mistakes until he reached the fourth inning. He faced Toral, who Bill remembered from an ACC game this season. Against Cusick, Toral smashed a ball that “felt like 500 feet, but was probably 450 feet.” The first pitch, Toral singled to left. Ramirez’s hit bounced past second base with two on and two outs. Vilar then struck out swinging and stranded both runners.
“We have too many puppies with their tongues hanging out looking for a drink of water,” Holliday said.
After five innings, Cusick exited the ballgame with twice as many strikeouts than hits allowed — he fanned eight and allowed four base hits.
Two pitches after he was pulled, Torkelson took Cusick’s replacement, Shaw, deep to right center.
“I knew it was gone off the bat,” Torkelson said about his second homer of the day. “Center fielder kind of scared me because he was camped under it, but out of the box I knew it was gone.”
After his blast extended past the fence, O’Guinn and Toral struck out looking and swinging, respectively. Ramirez rallied at two outs with a broken bat single, Vilar picked up ground ball hit and Smith loaded the bases on a booted ball between second and third.
Shaw was replaced for a Tyler Brosius, a submarine pitcher. Cade Cabbiness (Oklahoma State) walked to cut the deficit to two. Hall hit a line drive, but the ball was hit straight at the left fielder.
When Brosius returned, the top of the lineup came up, again. 10 pitches was all it took to retire the side and end any hopes of a comeback, one that only began once Cusick left the game.
“Their starter was probably the best starter that we’ve faced,” Holliday said. “He was pretty damn good.”