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Kozera’s surprise start boosts Chatham to 4-2 win over Cotuit

by Zak Wolf
Friday, July 05, 2024

Kozera’s surprise start boosts Chatham to 4-2 win over Cotuit
Tyler Kozera woke up at 9 a.m. like any other morning. He sat in bed for the next half hour before receiving a surprising phone call from Eric Beattie, Chatham’s pitching coach. Beattie soon posed an unexpected question to Kozera.

“Are you ready to start tonight?” Beattie asked.

“Me?” Kozera responded.

Beattie soon revealed that Drake George (Lewis-Clark State) — Chatham’s projected starter against Cotuit — had to leave unexpectedly. It left a void that Kozera had to fill. Without hesitation Kozera let Beattie know he was ready.

“I'll give you everything I got,” Kozera said.

The righty was stepping into a relatively unfamiliar position. During the spring, he started just one game with UCF — its Tallahassee Regional matchup with Florida State. And entering Friday Kozera had pitched 5.2 innings across three appearances out of the bullpen. Despite his inexperience as a starter this year, Kozera delivered in a big way for Chatham.

Kozera tossed 4.1 innings, striking out four batters, while allowing just one run in Chatham’s (9-8, East) 4-2 win over Cotuit (10-8, West). He limited traffic on the basepaths and pounded the strike zone. Fifty-five of Kozera’s 77 total pitches were strikes, providing the basis for Chatham’s fourth straight win. Cotuit out-hit Chatham 9-6 and loaded the bases in the ninth inning, but the Anglers did just enough to hold on.

Even though he found out under 10 hours before first pitch, Kozera had been in a similar position a month earlier. Prior to his lone start in the spring, Kozera only found out the night before he stepped on the mound.

UCF had burned its top three starters during its first three games in the NCAA Tournament. In need of an arm and facing elimination UCF head coach Richard Wallace turned to the freshman, despite just six prior appearances. Kozera dealt with a neck injury he suffered in January before returning in April. During his limited time, he impressed and earned the start.

Though Florida State eliminated UCF with a 12-4 win, Kozera did his job, tossing 3.1 scoreless innings.

Tyler Kozera (UCF) lunges forward to deliver a pitch amid Chatham's 4-2 win over Cotuit / Photograph by Sydney Ciardi

In just his second start since finishing high school, Kozera didn’t deviate from his normal routine. He drank two Propel’s to make sure he was hydrated. Later he downed a C4 energy drink to keep him wired. Kozera quickly pointed out he didn’t drink as much C4 as Chatham closer Titan Hayes (Austin Peay), who ended up throwing up on the mound during a 1.2-inning save against Brewster earlier this week.

The Kettleers attacked Kozera early. Back-to-back base knocks from Tanner Thach and Matt Klein placed runners on first and second with one out. A flyout from Brandon Compton had Kozera one out away from ending the frame. But Kien Vu poked a ball just past Eli Paton (Grand Canyon) at third base, scoring Klein and putting Cotuit in front 1-0.

The initial blemish didn’t faze Kozera, who provided shutdown pitching the rest of his outing. He also benefited from an instant cushion from the Chatham offense.

Austin Overn (USC) drew a lead-off walk and wreaked havoc on the basepaths. He swiped both second and third base with Ashton Larson (LSU) at the plate. With the count full, Larson drove a ball deep to center field, scoring Overn via sacrifice fly and leveling the game at 1-1.

Ike Irish (Auburn) then got Chatham’s first hit of the day, ripping a double to right field off Cotuit starter Janzen Keisel. With two outs, Aiva Arquette stepped to the plate. Keisel hung a slider, which Arquette pummeled into the trees in left field as the Anglers grabbed a 3-1 lead.

Kozera wasn’t overly concerned with the run he gave up. As a starter he loves to set the tone, instead of stopping the bleeding while coming out of the bullpen. But he wasn’t completely dominant in the first inning, Kozera asserted himself in the next three, mainly utilizing his fastball. He finished with four Ks and walked just one batter.

“I'm used to this stuff so maybe you know, they need to tell me more often (the) night before or day of,” Kozera said.

Heading into the summer Kozera knew as one of the younger pitchers, he likely wouldn’t start right away, but Chatham Manager Jeremy “Sheets” Sheetinger felt Kozera would eventually get his chance. Friday he showcased his skillset and now has the potential to establish himself as a regular in the Chatham rotation.

“It was a moment for him to show up and get a great job, he pitched his tail off and certainly we're excited that he got his feet wet in the starting role,” Sheetinger said.

After the first frame, Kozera didn’t allow multiple base runners in an inning. He exited in the top of the fifth getting replaced by Gabe Van Emon following a one-out single by Thach.

Van Emon continued what Kozera started. He retired the first seven Cotuit batters he faced as Chatham entered the eighth still leading 3-1.

That’s when Cotuit cut into the Anglers' lead. Thach produced his third hit of the night, driving a double into left field. Klein advanced Thach on a grounder to third. Compton cut the lead to one when he chopped a ball to Arquette, which was enough to score Thach.

Chatham answered in the bottom of the frame, restoring its two-run advantage. Kyle Lodise (Georgia Tech) drew a walk, putting runners on first and second with one out. Two batters later, Jayden Davis (Vanderbilt) slapped a ball into right-center field as Paton came around third to score. Lodise tried to score from first, but Nathan Hall threw him out at home.

With Chatham on the verge of a fourth straight win, Pierce George (Alabama) stepped in to close the ninth. Grant Jay led off the inning with a single. Though George got the next two batters out, the righty hit Jarren Advincula and Thach singled to load the bases. Klein stepped to the plate with a chance to put the Kettleers in front, but George forced him to pop up on the first pitch as the Anglers held on to win.

Last week the Anglers had lost three straight and held the longest losing streak in the CCBL. Four games later, the opposite is true. Chatham is now the hottest team in the CCBL with its unbeaten streak.

Though Kozera’s start was elite, for Sheetinger, the turnaround has been a group effort. The energetic and positive mindset he’s instilled in his team from day one has started to pay dividends and the results are showing.

“These guys are fighting hard to make sure that every guy around them has success. That's different, that's unique, that special and we're doubling down on it,” Sheetinger said.