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YARMOUTH — The bats of Yarmouth-Dennis kept swinging. Sometimes, they’d get weak contact. Sometimes, they’d swing and miss. But throughout Wednesday’s game, the Red Sox couldn’t hit off the Anglers pitching.
The Anglers had one of their best pitching performances of the season at Red Wilson Field. A two-hit shutout, started by five scoreless innings from Cole Ayers (State College of Florida) and finished off by four hittless frames from Mason Hazelwood (Kentucky) and Dawson Merryman (Texas), shut down Y-D.
“That was a pretty good threesome tonight,” manager Tom Holliday said of the combination of Ayers, Hazelwood and Merryman.
And despite the longest stretch without a game all season, the A’s offense provided enough support for its pitching, including three runs in the seventh and eight walks on the day. Chatham (21-12-2) extended its first place lead in the East Division to two points, and hasn’t lost to Yarmouth-Dennis (20-15-2) in all of its five matchups this season after a 5-0 win on Wednesday.
The blinking “Shelter Entrance” sign coming into the parking lot of Red Wilson Field served as a reminder of the last 24 hours — a tornado touched down in Yarmouth within two miles of the ball park and heavy winds and rain left the Cape in chaos on Tuesday. A day later, Chatham returned to baseball after their three-day hiatus.
“Three days feels like three weeks in this league,” Holliday said.
Ayers started on the bump using his two-seam fastball to get up in counts and a breaking ball to close out Red Sox hitters. Because of an influx of lefties in the opposing lineup, Ayers’ breaking pitch morphed into a slider.
“With the lefties, it turns into a slider and it’s harder to hit,” Ayers said. “For a righty, over the top so it’s more of a 12-6.”
An early line drive single was countered with a looking strikeout, and in the second frame, Ayers used a high breaking ball to get the third out of a 1-2-3 inning. When his lone scare appeared in the third, a leadoff double through the left field gap, Ayers forced a pop out to second. The runner moved 90 feet from home with two outs, and the right-handed pitcher responded with another strikeout.
He struck out Austin Wells, one of the top power hitters in the league, two times. His goal on Wednesday was simple: “Let them swing. See how far they can hit it,” he said postgame.
“I expected him to have the bullpen role…the two inning kind of specialist guy,” Mason Hazelwood (Kentucky) said about Ayers. “But he’s shown me he has more than what we thought he had at Kentucky.”
Chatham’s first two big hits came in nearly the same spot: midway down the right field foul line. One was a bloop single off of the bat of Hueston Morrill (Oklahoma State) that three converging defenders couldn’t handle. The other was a dart from future Cowboy Kaden Polcovich that stayed fair and bounced down to the foul pole to score Morrill two innings later.
When Chatham couldn’t get hits, Jamal O’Guinn (USC) and Colin Hall (Georgia Tech) both walked multiple times to start scoring opportunities. And as the free passes kept coming, the lead grew. The bases were loaded in the seventh off a successful hit-and-run by Cooper Davis (Vanderbilt). A Ben Ramirez (USC) bloop single brought home one. Two free passes led to two more runs.
“When we score five, we have to win,” Holliday said. “If you want to win in this league, five is going to do it.”
Hazelwood relieved Ayers in the sixth, and continued the shutout. When he returned for a second inning of work, the lefty was gifted a five-run lead. Holliday told his reliever to “pitch with a lead, don’t worry about showing everything you got. And save your pitches,” Hazelwood said.
But a two on and no out situation in the bottom of the eighth threatened the shutout. Pitching coach Dennis Cook talked with Hazelwood on the mound. After the meeting, he induced two pop outs. With both runners in scoring position, Hazelwood went to his slider, the pitch he came to Chatham to work on, to end the inning unscathed.
“My slider came a long way,” Hazelwood said. “It’s been my go-to.”
Merryman, an All-Star on Sunday, came in to finish the ninth, and closed the door on the Anglers second shutout this season — a domination of Red Sox hitters from the start.
Chatham’s clear adversary for first place in the East Division all summer has been Y-D. And all summer, Chatham hasn’t struggled to beat its closest competitor.
Said Holliday: “A win against them is a four point swing. You have to beat these guys when you can.”