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Chatham’s offense held quiet down the stretch in 4-1 loss to Cotuit

by Cooper Andrews
Sunday, June 23, 2024

Chatham’s offense held quiet down the stretch in 4-1 loss to Cotuit
It took one Anthony Eyanson fastball for Chatham’s dugout to morph into a pack of rabid dogs.

Austin Overn (USC) led off the Anglers’ late-afternoon matchup against Cotuit by lacing the first pitch of the game deep into right field. The ball traveled over the fence and into the thick outfield forest of Lowell Park with ease — causing Overn’s teammates to bark until he made his way back to the bench. It was the second homer in the last 24 hours for Overn.

But for the remainder of the contest, the Anglers’ dugout had a muzzle strapped on them.

Overn’s first-pitch blast was followed by eight scoreless innings. The drought led to Chatham’s (4-4, East) 4-1 loss to Cotuit (5-3, West) as the A’s couldn’t capture their first two-game winning streak of the year. Despite solid early pitching from Chatham, its bats ran into trouble against the Kettleers’ Eyanson, James Ellwanger and Michael Ebner. The Anglers only registered four hits past the first frame and struck out 10 times in total.

“Again, every game has these moments where you got runners in scoring position and you just gotta have some better at-bats,” A’s manager Jeremy “Sheets” Sheetinger said postgame. “It was good to get some momentum early, I know we felt confident coming out of that, but that’s the name of the game — it always comes down to how you show up in those (big) moments.”

Cotuit didn’t fare much better either, failing to plate a run from the second through sixth innings. That changed in the seventh, though.

Facing Chatham right-handed reliever Hayden Murphy (Auburn), Tyler Cerny and pinch-hitter AJ Gracia roped back-to-back singles. Their knocks brought up Tanner Thach with a prime scoring opportunity. He took advantage.

After Murphy floated two straight balls, Thach flipped his hips from the left-handed batter’s box and pounded a fastball over the middle over the head of John Bay (Austin Peay) in right field. Thach’s connection left the yard, and the Anglers issued no further response.

From a defensive perspective, Sunday’s result looked hopeful early. Chatham’s Kyson Witherspoon (Oklahoma) was on the rubber for his second start of the summer. He fanned six and gave up just one earned run across four innings in his first appearance on June 17 versus Bourne. Though, three batters in against Cotuit, he matched that total.

Witherspoon faced runners on first and third with one out in the bottom of the first. In a quest to limit potential damage, Witherspoon attempted a pickoff at first base to try and catch Devin Taylor sleeping. Yet, Witherspoon’s throw went awry, causing Nolan Nawrocki to easily score from third — tying the game at 1-1.

The Anglers garnered three base knocks over the second and third frames. Even though they couldn’t capitalize, Witherspoon unleashed for two straight one-two-three innings to keep the Kettleers at bay.

“I felt like I got ahead (in the count) really well today,” Witherspoon said postgame. “I really let my stuff work, found the zone and forced weak contact to give my boys a chance … It was just ‘Attack, attack, attack.’”

Chatham began to face a new arm in the fourth inning as Eyanson was subbed out for Ellwanger, a former Washington Nationals 2023 draft selection.

Austin Overn approaches home plate after blasting his second home run of the season in the first inning against Cotuit / Photograph by Ella Tovey

Ellwanger rattled off two quick outs to start the fourth, until Kyle Johnson (Duke) pulled a double into the left-field corner, sliding headfirst into second. Johnson then glided over to third off an Ellwanger wild pitch. He didn’t reach home, though, as Campbell Smithwick (Ole Miss) got caught looking at strike three.

Meanwhile, an efficient afternoon continued for Witherspoon. The flamethrowing righty tossed a litany of early strikes while relying on his slider and changeup to ring guys up and force soft contact. Witherspoon had just 54 pitches — and 40 strikes — through five innings of one-run ball, pounding his mitt in delirium after inducing a 4-3 groundout to cap off the fifth frame.

“He had everything working for him,” Sheetinger said of Witherspoon. “His ability to pound the zone and attack hitters is elite. To be fair, that dude is going to pitch in the big leagues, there ain’t no doubt about that.”

Still, the Anglers couldn’t quite figure out Ellwanger. They suffered four backwards Ks from the fourth to the sixth, and five strikeouts overall in that span. Ellwanger gave up just one hit across 3.1 innings of shutout ball.

Witherspoon was swapped for Murphy to begin the sixth. And as Witherspoon exited, so did Chatham’s blanket of safety.

Danger was posed to Murphy almost immediately. He beamed Nawrocki with a fastball, and the Cotuit third baseman strode to second base due to a Smithwick passed ball. Murphy battled back by K’ing Taylor. He then faced Nathan Hall, who slapped a grounder to Jett Johnston (Texas A&M) at third.

Johnston fired a low, errant throw to Luke Cantwell (Pittsburgh) at first base. But Cantwell, with his legs spread wide, cocked his left arm upward to scoop the tough feed, ending the sixth inning in style.

Yet the same story seemed to be repeating for Chatham. Its 6-8 hitters went down in order in the seventh. Murphy then forced a pop-out in foul territory to Johnston to start the bottom half. And this time, the A’s quiet bats came back to haunt them.

Thach smashed his aforementioned three-run home run over the right-field fence. All of a sudden, a struggling Anglers’ offense was pitted against a 4-1 deficit amid the game’s twilight stages.

Chatham answered in the eighth with contact, but no results. It went down one-two-three again with the top half finishing on a Jayden Davis (Vanderbilt) hard lineout into right field. The Anglers’ defeat was sealed after yet another one-two-three ninth, as they went without a single hit from the fourth inning through the remainder of the game.

“It’s been a back-and-forth season, but that’s part of it,” Sheetinger said. “Everybody’s sort of finding their way and when it clicks, it becomes contagious. And that’s what we’re searching for, when it gets contagious up and down our lineup.”