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Ben Ramirez (USC) laid down a simple sacrifice bunt. With Hueston Morrill (Oklahoma State) on base, all Orleans pitcher Jeffrey Praml had to do was throw it to first. A routine play became much more.
First, Praml slipped and dropped the ball. Then, he overthrew first. Morrill came flying around the bases, sliding head first into home plate and delivering Chatham’s fourth-straight victory, a ninth-inning walk-off.
On a sacrifice bunt.
The game’s final play, a microcosm of a night full of defensive blunders, ended with Chatham surviving all of its self-inflicted wounds. A 4-0 early deficit turned into a 7-4 lead, which Chatham both blew and then recaptured again in the bottom of the ninth. The Anglers extinguished the Firebirds five-game winning streak and beat Orleans, 8-7, on Wednesday night at Veterans Field.
“I call it a spectator’s delight, and a coaches’ nightmare,” Anglers manager Tom Holliday said. “But a win is a win. As hard as we had to play after spotting them four, it was like pulling the teeth out of a lion.”
Holliday said that come-from-behind wins, when his team isn’t playing that well, are what turns a collection of “all-stars” into a “ball club.” On two consecutive nights, the Anglers start — both offensively and defensively — was flat. Both times, it didn’t matter.
“We’re a late inning ball club, some call us,” Kaden Polcovich (Northwest Florida State) said with a smile. “I don’t know. That was a fun game, that’s a four-game win streak. But these games are going to get tighter and we have to be better.”
Chatham surrendered the first run in the opening inning, an all-too-frequent feeling for Holliday and the A’s. In 18 games, Chatham has now conceded first 12 times. With the A’s down 1-0 in the third, Brady Smith (Florida) popped out of his stance after a swinging third strike and fired down to second base to throw out a stealing runner.
Tyler Doanes (West Virginia) was waiting. Doanes caught the throw, swept his glove and appeared to tag out Orleans runner Tanner Murray as he tried to slide around the tag.
The umpire ruled Murray safe. The next hitter, Zach Kokaska, hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to left. But Cooper Swanson (Florida State) didn’t react to the swing until it was too late. The ball dropped in for an RBI double. With Chatham’s bats struggling against Orleans starter Adam Seminaris, an Orleans two RBI double in the third made possible by extra outs from Chatham’s defensive miscues, gave the Firebirds a four-run lead.
Like he’s done many times this season, Charlie Welch (St John’s River State College) smashed a fastball. The A’s catcher has seen well-hit balls die on the warning track, throws barely beat him at first and balls caught on the run. But on this swing, it was long gone.
“I’m trying to forget about the past,” Welch said. “You can’t change that. It’s been working the last two nights. I barreled it and I definitely knew it was going out.”
His pinch-hit single on Tuesday at Harwich tied the game. Wednesday, Welch ignited the Chatham comeback and cut the deficit in half. Welch now has more hits in the last two games than he had in his first 25 at-bats combined.
Once Seminaris departed, the rally began. Doanes led off the sixth with a bloop single. Jamal O’Guinn (USC) followed it by beating the overshift a third consecutive time.
With two runners on, Keaton Rice (Bradley) bunted the runners over. Chatham has struggled with runners in scoring position this season, except for Polcovich. He fouled off a fastball on the inner-half, but when the pitcher threw a fastball in the same spot on the next pitch, Polcovich roped the ball down the first base line to bring in two runners.
“I know when the big spots are in the game,” Polcovich said. “You tend to lock in a little bit more in those situations. I don’t know why he threw two fastballs in the same spot.”
Just as Chatham handed Orleans multiple runs in the third inning, the Firebirds gave them back in the eighth. Rice and Polcovich reached base on their own with one out, but Max Troiani dropped an Alex Toral (Miami) pop-up that would have been out No. 2.
A wild pitch brought in the go-ahead run, and Ray Gil’s overthrow of the catcher scored two more Chatham runs. Much like Tuesday’s win against Harwich, when the Mariners made mental errors that gave the Anglers the open door to launch a comeback, Orleans’ mishaps gave the A’s the lead.
The three-run lead was not enough for Chatham to hold on in the ninth, though. Zach Cable (Kentucky) allowed a two-run double to put the tying run on second base with just one out.
But Holliday made a switch with two outs — He turned to his “lights-out” man, Dawson Merryman (Texas), to record a one-out save. Merryman walked Gil, who already had two RBIs, on five pitches him to load the bases. Danny Serretti then singled through the hole at second to tie the game, but the go-ahead runner was thrown out at home by Cade Cabbiness (Oklahoma State) in right field.
Holliday wasn’t pleased with all of the mental lapses. but it was Orleans final mistake, an error the Firebirds couldn’t overcome. In a “give-and-give” game, as Holliday said, Orleans gave last.
“That’s a bizarre game,” Holliday said. “People probably enjoyed that. I’d call that a lucky win.”