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HARWICH — Chatham had to tinker its lineup up until first pitch. A replacement, movements up-and-down the starting nine and a wild card in the seventh hole — a situational designated hitter that was originally announced as Daniel Federman (Miami), a starting pitcher.
Manger Tom Holliday tried to combat a late Harwich pitching switch and an offense that knocked just four hits against Cotuit the night prior. And while his switches altered with public address announcements, it didn’t fix an offense that couldn’t generate a run on Sunday.
“They played really good, we played really average,” Holliday said. “Aside from four or five innings on the mound and Huey Morrill, it's hard to get excited about that ball game.”
Chatham had just four hits against the Mariners, and three came from one player: Hueston Morrill (Oklahoma State). Its offense couldn’t develop against Harwich’s pitchers Jared Weatherbee and Connor Sechler and when starter Luke Bartnicki (Georgia Tech) faltered in the early innings, rallies didn’t come into fruition. After winning eight of its last games coming into Saturday, Chatham (23-14-2) has lost two straight after a 5-1 loss to Harwich (19-20-1).
The night before featured similar lapses, just in a more unusual manner. Holliday and pitching coach Dennis Cook were both ejected. Cotuit mustered 15 hits, 14 of which were singles off a pitching staff that has the lowest ERA in the Cape League. And its offense produced three runs, including two off the bat of Charlie Welch (St. John’s River State College).
A day later, its offense developed early, like a Hueston Morrill (Oklahoma State) leadoff double to start the game. But it didn’t translate to the scoreboard.
“We have so much trouble here scoring early, we just have to hang around,” Holliday said on July 25. “The only way to combat that is to put zeros on the scoreboard.”
Harwich started the second inning the same way, but didn’t fail to convert like the A’s. A fielder’s choice started the Mariners scoring, the 27th game this season where Chatham conceded the opening run.
Luke Bartnicki (Georgia Tech), Sunday’s starter for the A's, allowed another leadoff baserunner to start the third. The left-hander side-eyed first base and slung a ball to Alex Toral (Miami) and caught Chris Lanzilli in between the basepaths. But Toral’s throw came too late, and he moved 90 feet. A hard hit shot to left scored Lanzilli and a slow dribbler in the infield grass ran the lead up to three runs.
“You control the pace you play it at,” Holliday said. “Right now, we're playing with a sympathetic air about us. Like we're so tired of the others teams.”
Bartnicki started the sixth with a walk and was replaced. Later in the inning, his replacement, Mason Hazelwood (Kentucky), gave away another free pass. Similar opportunities came for the A’s — like two on and two out in the fifth — but a final hit rarely came. Morrill went 3-for-3 in his first three at-bats, but only made it past second once.
“Some people are struggling with the strike zone,” Welch said. “It’s tough to tell. Everyone has a different story right now.”
Mason Hazelwood (Kentucky) relieved Bartnicki one out through the sixth, and couldn’t find traction. An inning in, he struggled to field a ground ball and it scored a run. A sacrifice fly brought home another.
With an inflated lead, Kaden Polcovich (Oklahoma State) mustered a five-pitch walk with one out in the eighth. Paxton Wallace (Wichita State), who was moved to clean up right before game start, smashed a double to left center to score the A’s first run of the game. But a pitch low ended the frame with a Toral looking strikeout. And a 1-2-3 ninth inning solidified the outcome.
Late-inning scoring and comebacks have propelled Chatham in its rise to the best record in the East Division. On Sunday, its staple didn’t show up.
“I don't care if somebody told them they clinched the playoffs,” Holliday said. “The way they're playing right now, they won't win a game the rest of the year.”