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Cooper Davis (Vanderbilt) knifed a double down the third base line to drive in teammate Jorge Arenas (Stetson).
For the first time all series, Chatham had an extra-base hit and multiple knocks in the same inning. Most importantly, the A’s scored a run.
It was the top of the eighth inning, and the Anglers had just their third hit of the entire series. The “late-inning” ball club that so many players and manager Tom Holliday have called them the entire season had a spark. Even after Kaden Polcovich (Oklahoma State) homered to lead off the ninth, and two more runners reached base to bring the go-ahead run to the plate, the hole the A’s had dug with their 16 previous scoreless innings proved to be too deep to overcome.
“A home run always sparks you, but it was too little, too late,” Holliday said.
Almost every time Chatham needed a comeback in 2019, it seemed to come. The Anglers haven’t been great offensively in games, often trailing early. But their offense has often pushed across critical runs in late-inning games to turn losses into wins. Their success in close games and comebacks is what earned them a spot as East Division Regular Season Champions.
“It’s tough, especially after finishing in first place,” Jamal O’Guinn (USC) said. “We definitely had high expectations, I booked my plane ticket for August 12.”
Now, O’Guinn is rescheduling his flight back home to California. One year after Chatham rolled into the playoffs and swept its way through its side of the bracket, Holliday and the A’s were pushed aside in two games. Harwich defeated Chatham, 4-1, in Game 2 of the East Divisional Series, to advance to the EDCS and end the Anglers 2019 season. The Co-Division Champions label is all the Anglers have to show from their campaign collectively.
Friday and Saturday, the A’s late-inning spark extinguished. Chatham’s offense disappeared in the final week of the season — save for a dramatic comeback win against Orleans on July 31 — and left the Anglers eliminated in two games against Harwich.
“They were out of gas and reaching back and trying to find energy,” Holliday said. “We hung around, we got great pitching. The bottom line is, they gave me everything they had and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
No series better encapsulates the Anglers successes and shortcomings than their matchups with the Mariners. In 2018, Chatham overpowered Harwich and won all eight meetings. And while the 2019 installment of the Anglers featured a dominant pitching staff, the Mariners outdueled them up and down the rotation. In eight meetings, Harwich has won five, holding the A’s to just 17 runs. In the last four meetings with the Mariners, the Anglers have scored three runs. Chatham’s pitching was good in the playoffs. Harwich’s was better.
While Daniel Federman (Miami), Austin Vernon (NC Central) and Luke Bartnicki (Georgia Tech) pitched nine innings on Friday and allowed just one run and four hits, Chatham’s offense was no-hit in its playoff opener. For an offense that propelled eight wins in nine games just nine days ago, the last week of the season has left Holliday wondering what happened.
“We got beat up by the players that left us,” Holliday said. “Some of the arms and bats that left, some of the guys that never showed up.
On Saturday at Harwich, the Anglers had five hits, and none until the fifth. Colin Hall’s (Georgia Tech) infield dribbler was all Chatham could muster off of Mariners starter Antonio Menendez. Once Harwich strung together a walk and four singles in the second off Chatham starter Kolby Kubichek (Texas), Holliday said a four-run lead felt like 40.
Despite quality A’s pitching again —except one inning from Kubichek — when Harwich hit balls hard, they found gaps. Two singles through the hole at shortstop, another over Arenas’ head at third base. The hits dropped in front of outfielders and Harwich won two baseball games without an extra-base hit.
Chatham hit plenty of balls hard, too. Alex Toral (Miami) smashed a fastball in the second inning to deep center field. It would have been a home run at Veterans Field on Friday. But Saturday, Harwich center fielder Dylan Neuse corralled it on the warning track.
Hall ripped a line drive to the left side, directly to Mariners shortstop Hal Hughes to end the inning. When Ben Ramirez roped a deep fly to left-center field, Mariners outfielder Chris Galland laid out to make the catch and deny Chatham a rally.
“They went right at us,” Holliday said of the Mariners pitching. “They weren’t afraid to throw strikes. That guy today looked like he was throwing batting practice, but his angle gave him movement that gave us trouble.”
The A’s showed their first signs of life in the ninth inning, when Polcovich belted his fifth home run of the summer to leadoff the inning. Keaton Rice (Bradley) then singled, Hall reached on a hit by pitch, and suddenly, the Anglers brought the go-ahead run to the plate.
Five pitches and a swinging strikeout later, the A’s season was over.
With the Mariners stellar defense and pitching, Chatham had just five hits to show for 18 offensive innings against the league’s second-best pitching staff, according to ERA.
Chatham’s strength — its pitching — earned them a top seed in the playoffs. But its lack of offense down the stretch knocked them out.