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Brecht, Wilkinson, lead Chatham to first win over Firebirds

by Graham Dietz
Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Brecht, Wilkinson, lead Chatham to first win over Firebirds
After opening the 2023 season with a loss and a tie, there probably wasn’t anyone more refreshing for Chatham fans to watch than Brody Brecht. Things only took a turn for the better when Matt “Tugboat” Wilkinson walked into the game in Brecht’s relief in the top of the fifth inning.

For the first time this summer, an Anglers pitcher silenced the opposing lineup 1-2-3 in the first inning. Brecht’s mix of high-speed fastballs and wavy sliders induced three straight outs to start the game. The Hawkeye finished with five strikeouts in four scoreless innings. Wilkinson, on the other hand, tallied eight strikeouts in the latter five innings of the contest, and did not allow a single base runner.

“They’re different pitchers—completely different,” Chatham manager Tom Holliday said of Brecht and Wilkinson. “For Brecht, the buildup’s on how powerful his arm is. That’s a contrast duo. I’d like to have it all summer.”

The Brecht-Wilkinson pitching tandem led Chatham (1–1–1 East) to a 2–0 shutout victory over Orleans (2–2–0 East). The win marked the Anglers’ first in their centennial season as well as their first shutout through nine innings since they did so against Bourne on July 30, 2022 behind Ben Hampton’s complete game.

“We’re trying to still get a feel for each other, trying to get the energy up in here,” Brody Brecht said. “I just want to set the tone for the team and give us a shot to win.”

Before the bottom of the first got underway, Orleans starter Dylan Jacobs stepped off the mound, kneeled into the infield grass, and made a prayer with his head hanging low, infield warmup balls flying over his scalp. The prayer was quickly answered as the Stetson product quieted all three Chatham bats with two strikeouts.

But Brecht continued to deal in the top of the second inning, striking out all three Firebirds for another 1-2-3 inning. Jacobs then posted a 1-2-3 inning of his own.

“I was feeling good, but I still want to cut down on the non-competitive misses,” Brecht said. “But then when I was in the zone, I feel like I was able to put it anywhere I wanted to. My slider felt good.”

A punchout on Orleans’ Henry Hunter increased Brecht’s strikeout total to five in the top of the third inning, and Xavier Casserilla knocked the A’s first hit of the game with a slicer to right field in the bottom of the third. The runner advanced all the way to third base, courtesy of a Kaeden Kent bunt and a Kaden Hopson groundout, before Casserilla stole home on a passed ball to register Chatham’s first run of the game.

If A’s fans weren’t entertained by Brecht’s dominant pitching through four innings, they were probably pleased when “Tugboat” Wilkinson entered the game in the top of the fifth. The nickname “Tugboat” has stuck with Wilkinson, a six-foot-one, 275-pound lefty hurler, since his dad’s best friend gave it to him while coaching. And Wilkinson picked up right where Brecht ended, striking out two in the top of the fifth.

“It was fun to have fans,” Holliday said. “Those kids who got behind ‘Tug,’ I mean, that might be a night he never forgets.”

A Mark Shallenberger walk and Casserilla single in the bottom of the fifth inning prompted a mound switch for Orleans, and Jonathan Gonzalez, another Stetson product, stepped into the game. Kent, however, laced a ball right at Gonzalez’s body frame to record a line out, and the righty threw out Shallenberger as well. Hopson directed a ball to left field for a double to advance Casserilla to third, but Antonacci struck out, ending the inning.

A second two-strikeout inning for “Tugboat” in the top of the sixth inning riled up fans at Veterans Field, and the crowd appeared to look even more antsy for Chatham’s offense to step up. Although Lyle Miller-Green made it to third base after two errant pitches, a Donahue strikeout tucked it all away.

“We wanted this win tonight after the first two games, we were hungry for it,” Hopson said. “We were just trying to be aggressive with at-bats, take what we could get. Guys up here have good stuff.”

In the bottom of the seventh frame, Casserilla made it to third base for the second inning in a row, and Orleans went to the pen again, placing Konner Eaton on the mound. But Eaton could not replicate the success of Chatham’s pitching staff, walking his first batter and allowing Casserilla to trot home on a wild pitch to make it 2–0 in the A’s favor.

Wilkinson brought the heat again in the top of the eighth inning, fanning Notre Dame’s Jack Penney. On his way back to the dugout, Wilkinson curled his fists into a WWE-esque arm pose, initiating wild cheers from the bleachers. The southpaw capped off his eight-strikeout night and Chatham’s first win with two more punchouts in the bottom of the ninth.

“He was just saying ‘boom, hit this,’” Brecht said of Wilkinson. “I love his mentality. Struck out the batter and hit the [Connor] McGregor walk.”