Chatham acting manager Marty Lees strode toward the third-base dugout, open palm extended.
He shook hands with Cotuit skipper Mike Roberts and greeted every Kettleer before herding his players near the right-field foul line. Etched across each Anglers’ face was a look of utter confusion.
Seconds prior, Chatham’s Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek stood motionless at the plate, a black bat dangling in his right hand. He saw loaded bases and one out in the top of the eighth inning.
A few paces away, all three umpires were positioned in a huddle. When the trio broke, Chatham’s third meeting with Cotuit had been decidedly called due to darkness.
Martin-Grudzielanek took a moment to himself before joining the rest of the team. He mockingly swung at the pitch he never received. His frustration was understandable.
Chatham was on the verge of taking the lead. It had already overcome a seemingly insurmountable 12–2 deficit. Beginning in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Anglers (9–19–2 East) strung together 10 unanswered runs over Cotuit (22–9–1 West) across three frames. Nevertheless, the A’s couldn’t control the setting sun at Lowell Park in an eventual 12–12 tie.
“To start off the game we had some errors and some walks that didn’t amount to anything but runs for them,” Lees said. “I’m proud of their effort. I feel like I haven’t felt since we’ve been here. This team never felt like they were out.”
Kaeden Kent opened the game with a hit that hopped over Cotuit third baseman Danny Corona’s glove and advanced Zach MacDonald to second base. Then, a Tyler Wulfert sacrifice fly gave the Anglers a 1–0 lead in the first inning.
Trey Gibson allowed consecutive singles to begin his sixth A’s outing. Gibson obtained his first strikeout of the evening facing three-hole hitter Grant Norris but relinquished the Anglers’ slim advantage off a Corona grounder. The hit drew Cotuit level and Chatham’s starter delivered three consecutive walks to dig a 2–1 hole.
Angler third-baseman Aidan Meola caught a slow bouncer but overthrew Trace Willhoit at first base, continuing a nightmarish opening frame. The error generated two more opposition runs.
“To start off the game we had some errors and some walks that didn’t amount to anything but runs for them,” Lees said.
Chatham lay mostly dormant against Cotuit’s Camron Hill, who entered the contest boasting a 0.36 ERA in 24.2 innings pitched. Though the Anglers bats stayed consistently aggressive, they mustered just one hit across the first three innings.
When Hill was replaced by Brock Peery in the fourth frame, however, Chatham’s Kyson Donahue roped a one-run double to right field.
Gibson’s agonizing showing allotted four more runs, but, according to Lees, the righty wanted to remain on the bump. Amid a dwindling bullpen and a daunting stretch of nine games in seven days, the longer Gibson could play the better, and he welcomed the challenge.
“We left him out there, he didn’t want to come in, he wanted to prove himself,” Lees said of Gibson. “He could’ve easily just checked in after the first or second inning, but we needed him. I know it wasn’t his best outing, but I tip my cap to that young man.”
Lees was also likely hesitant to insert another position player at pitcher. In Tuesday’s 5–2 loss to Falmouth, Xavier Casserilla was forced to close the ninth inning.
As the Kettleers grew a commanding 9–2 lead, Gibson exited for Liam Paddack in the bottom of the fourth.
Paddack’s relief stint began shakily. With two runners assigned to him upon arrival, Paddack immediately conceded a single that juiced the bases while furthering the Kettleers’ cushion to 10–2. Cotuit’s Cole Mathis then laced one, tiptoeing down the third-base line for another two runs.
Paddack induced a routine centerfield popout to escape the fourth inning.
Chatham caught fire in the fifth. According to Donahue, it never felt like the Anglers were out of contention in the first place. Deric Fabian earned a walk and Martin-Grudzielanek reached first base to trigger Roberts’ second pitching change of the matchup.
“We just took care of our at-bats, didn’t give up on our bats, and good things happened,” Donahue said.
Facing Cotuit’s third arm of the night, Aidan Hunter, Kent grounded to shallow center field and Wulfert produced a bloop single to an almost identical area. Both hits combined to score Fabian and Martin-Grudzielanek, making things 12–4 and spearheading signs of a comeback.
Working hand-in-hand with Paddack, the Anglers’ bats slowly chipped away at Cotuit’s lead. Chatham moved to the top of the sixth, following a double-play and a six-pitch Paddack strikeout. The lefty finished with two strikeouts and allowed three hits in 3.1 innings.
“That was huge for Liam,” Donahue said. “He kind of struggled in his first inning, and I don’t know what he did, but he put it together. He looked gross toward the end of the game. It was huge.”
As Hunter failed to find an answer for the visiting barrels, he gave way to Cotuit’s Ben Kovel. A desperate Roberts, unable to halt nor stall a confident A’s offense, would end up showcasing seven different pitchers.
“We know we had a good lineup and we knew we could put up runs,” Donahue said. “It was just a matter of passing the bat to the next guy. No one gave up in that moment and we just wanted to put something together.”
From there, the Anglers tallied six straight runs through the next two innings, cutting the deficit to just two, and Wulfert stepped up as Chatham’s seventh hitter in the seventh frame.
In his fourth turn at the plate, Wulfert sliced a practice swing through the air and started to methodically waggle his bat. He steadied both feet and entered his batting stance, eyes surveying the infield on yet another loaded bases opportunity for Chatham. The tying run presented itself in the form of an eager Zach MacDonald at second.
The first pitch Wulfert saw went high and the second burrowed itself into the dirt. Firmly ahead in the count, Wulfert watched the incoming delivery near, revved up his left leg and lined one hurtling past the tucked head of Kent at first base and into right field.
From third base, Martin-Grudzielanek jogged ahead to score and MacDonald tailed shortly after. Cotuit right fielder, James McCoy, collected Wulfert’s hit and frantically threw home, but a sliding MacDonald arrived first.
His white cleats and grey pants were caked in red clay but MacDonald probably didn’t mind. His run was the Anglers’ fourth of the inning which tied the game at 12–12.
Lees was one of the last to exit the ballpark, a sack of blue-tipped Angler bats over his right shoulder. He wasn’t visibly mad nor disappointed at his side’s end result, nor its premature conclusion.
But Lees believed, with absolute certainty, that Chatham would have beaten West Division leaders Cotuit. It was a sentiment he shared with his players, and probably, any of the fans in attendance at Lowell Park. The Anglers simply ran out of time.
“If the lights came on we would’ve won that game,” Lees said. “We need to focus on doing a better job early so we don’t put ourselves in that position.”