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Harwich second baseman Cory Acton roped a 1-0 fastball to right field and both Mariners’ runners on base held up on their bases.
Chatham outfielder Kendrick Calilao (Florida) sprinted to his left immediately, laying out horizontally to try and make the catch and preserve runs. But the ball bounced under his glove to the right field wall, driving in two runs and enabling Acton to race to third base with a triple.
Two runs scored to extend the Harwich lead to six. In the ninth, Acton mashed a three-run home run over Calilao’s head. With Chatham’s offense sputtering for the third consecutive night, the lead was insurmountable as the A’s finished with three hits.
Since the Anglers have clinched their playoff spot by winning eight of nine games and playing some of their best baseball of the season, their end of season slide has commenced. The Anglers have now lost three consecutive games, all by four or more runs. Harwich completed the home-and-home sweep of the Anglers with a 11-0 win to all but secure its playoff spot and make a statement against the team the Mariners could potentially face when the playoffs commence on Friday night.
“Sometimes, when you clinch it’s easy to just chill and wait for the playoffs,” pitcher Austin Vernon (NC Central) said. “But we can’t do that. We have to keep going for first place and get that home field advantage.”
Chatham manager Tom Holliday wasn’t happy with his team’s energy level and focus when the Anglers dropped the first game of the two-game series with the Mariners, 5-1. The A’s were held to just four hits, three of which were by Hueston Morrill (Oklahoma State).
“I don't care if somebody told them they clinched the playoffs,” Holliday said after Sunday’s loss. “The way they're playing right now, they won't win a game the rest of the year.”
Monday night wasn’t much better for the Anglers on the scoreboard, but Holliday said he thought the team’s energy was improved. They hit balls hard, but right at people.
Morrill and Tyler Doanes (West Virginia) had encouraging at-bats in the bottom of the first when they both hit long flies to the warning track. But the A’s couldn’t sustain the success against Harwich starter Will Heflin.
The next four outs all came via the strikeout, despite the A’s getting two runners on and their first hit. When the A’s did earn baserunners via a single or walk, they stranded all five of them. Morrill continued his successful hitting stretch with a one-out bunt single in the third, but he never advanced past second base.
Chatham’s best run scoring opportunity came in the fifth when the A’s trailed by just four. With two runners on and no one out after a walk and an error, Morrill grounded into a fielder’s choice and Doanes grounded into a double play.
Minutes later, the deficit grew even larger. Acton’s triple and a Chris Galland triple into the left field corner brought in three of four Harwich runs in the sixth inning. Not long ago, it was the Mariners that had the league’s worst offense.
“We got beat tonight but that’s a really good offensive ball club,” Holliday said. “We need to get (Smith) and O’Guinn back and get healthy for the playoffs.”
After Chatham’s disappointing performance on Monday night, the Anglers now have the lowest batting average in the Cape League. It’s been the effect of an offense that has struggled mightily over the last three games.
Chatham continues to slide down the offensive power ranks too. The Anglers entered Monday night eighth in the Cape in slugging percentage and for the third time in six meetings with the Mariners, Chatham failed to register an extra-base hit.
The Anglers put two more base runners on in the sixth inning, only for Charlie Welch (St. John’s River State College) to smash a line drive directly at the Mariners’ second baseman for a lineout double play.
When Chatham hit the ball hard, as Kaden Polcovich did in the eighth, it again went straight to Acton at second base.
Facing Harwich — the A’s are most likely to see for a best two-out-of-three series beginning on Friday — Chatham received significant warning signs in the last 18 innings of baseball. The Mariners pitching staff has had consistent success all year.
But for now, it’s just the regular season.
“Sometimes you’re going to lose three in a row.” Holliday said. “To still be in first place after that in this league is good. It shows how good this team was for the first two thirds of the season.”