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Through six games at Veterans Field, Chatham had outhomered its opponents, 6-0.
But in the first at-bat of Friday night’s game, Wareham’s dominance of the A's dating back to 2017 continued. Jack Owen (Auburn) threw the eighth pitch to Braiden Ward right down the middle, and Ward pummeled it.
Right fielder Jamal O’Guinn (USC) turned around, and watched as the ball flew onto the right field hill for the opening run. It was the first time Chatham allowed a home run at home this season, and the beginning of an early offensive barrage.
By the end of the first inning, Wareham had posted four runs on four hits. The A’s offense, which has just 11 runs in its last four games, didn’t have a chance to recover. After the Gatemen won both games at Spillane Field on June 16 by a combined score of 13-5, Chatham (7-6-1) entered Friday night’s game having lost 10-straight games to Wareham (8-5-1). The Gatemen added seven runs in three innings, more than enough to beat Anglers, 7-4.
Wareham has now scored 20 runs in 21 offensive innings against Chatham this season. The standings said that Chatham and Wareham were even at 7-5-1, but on Friday, the A’s were second-best.
“We can’t settle in right now,” manager Tom Holliday said. “We don’t have all the guys here yet. We need to re-emphasize defense, but you can’t just put your best defenders out there, we need to score more runs. That’s a coaching thing that kicks you in the butt.”
Owen’s introduction to the Cape League didn’t go as planned. He arrived in Chatham on Thursday, and threw two innings. Four of the first five hitters reached base against Owen — a leadoff home run and three ground ball singles. The third single and a sacrifice fly brought in two more runs, and a fourth came in to score after back-to-back A’s errors.
“They are taking the one tool for granted that got them here,” Holliday said of the A’s league-worst defense. “No coach should be recommending a player to come here if they can’t play defense. We’re gonna take more ground balls. We let the game get away from us.”
Chatham’s offense is familiar with playing from behind. The A’s have now conceded the opening run in 10 of their 14 games, but Friday night was the most runs they’d allowed in the opening inning all season.
Needing more offense than usual because of its uncharacteristic pitching issues, the Anglers mustered just eight hits. They had baserunners in seven of the nine innings, but managed just one run in the first seven frames.
“Our pregame routine, maybe tone it down in BP a little bit,” Kaden Polcovich said when asked how to help offensive struggles. “We look tired coming out. It’s different for everyone. Some players like that early work.”
Once Cole Ayers (State College of Florida) relieved Owen in the third inning, the deficit ballooned.
Like Owen, the first hitter Ayers faced, Adrian Del Castillo, homered to right field. Two singles and an RBI groundout later, and Chatham’s deficit of seven runs was now the largest of the season.
Back-to-back leadoff walks from Jorge Arenas (Stetson) and Doanes put two runners on with none out in the third. Only one came around to score, though, on an RBI groundout by Kaden Polcovich (Northwest Florida State).
“When you go down four runs, those at-bats after that, you have to be smart enough to realize the only way we’re going to get those runs back is if he walks a guy or hits a guy,” Holliday said. “You can’t swing at the first pitch down four.”
Ayers struck out three and retired nine of the next 10 hitters without allowing a run. Mason Hazelwood (Kentucky) pitched three scoreless frames, allowing no baserunners and striking out six — he’s now tied for fourth in strikeouts in the Cape League. Ayers and Hazelwood gave the offense a chance, if Chatham could be the late-inning ball club it has been all season.
For the first time on Friday night, Chatham pieced back-to-back hits together in the ninth. A lead-off double for Ben Ramirez (USC), and a Cade Cabbiness (Oklahoma State) RBI single gave a dormant Anglers’ offense life for the first time.
Jorge Arenas (Stetson) took a free base on a hit by pitch. Charlie Welch (St. John’s River State College) watched four balls sail by him. The bases were loaded with no outs, and the Anglers brought the tying run to the plate.
Hueston Morrill (Oklahoma State) chased a 91 mph fastball out of the zone and struck out swinging.Polcovich fouled off three balls on an 0-2 count. He survived a breaking ball he was way out in front of, then a fastball he was behind. Eventually, he singled through a hole in right field to bring the winning run to the plate.
Colin Hall (Georgia Tech) popped out to third base and Anthony Vilar (Miami) was the A’s last chance. He fouled off multiple two-strike pitches, but chased a breaking ball in the dirt for the final out.
“They had to make a pitching change and that closer wasn’t even ready,” Holliday said. “We’re only a base hit away from being even in that game. Then the closer settled in and we swing at a 3-2 slider in the dirt. If you’re feeling tension, you swing at it. If you’re not, you don’t swing at bad pitches.”
The final rally was a spark for the first time the entire night, but it came too late for Chatham.