Story By Phil Garceau & John S. Condakes/CAA Asst. Web Editor
THURSDAY, August 14, 2008
HARWICH — All good things must come to an end.
Manager Mike Roberts and his Cotuit Kettleers saw just that in game two of the Cape Cod Baseball League championship series, game which ended in a 2-1 loss to the Harwich Mariners in dramatic fashion.
“They’re the 2008 champions,” said Roberts. “I’m happy for them, I’m happy for Steve (Englert) and their organization and that’s the most important thing to me, that we are happy for them.”
Cotuit held a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, but after allowing the first three batters to reach base, Mark Fleury (North Carolina) laced a two-run single to deep right-center field to give Harwich its first league crown since 1987.
Despite falling short in the finals, the Cotuit organization can take pride in its accomplishments. The Kettleers won the West Division title in one the most exciting races in recent history, Roberts won his first playoff game and Cotuit reached the championship series for the first time since 1999.
“With this team, it had nothing to do with talent,” said an emotional Roberts “It had to do with the love and respect for one another and the love and respect for the game and that’s what carried them to this point. It didn’t have anything to do with talent.”
Nick Hernandez (Tennessee), who pitched eight scoreless innings before facing one hitter in the ninth, said it was the most fluid team he’s ever been a part of. “When you bring 25 guys from around the country and put them on one team, you usually aren’t going to have team camaraderie.
“We don’t have the best talent,” Hernandez continued, “but whenever you have a group of guys who want to play together and do everything together, it carries over to the field,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez (Tennessee) pitched his best game of the summer but a bottom of the ninth rally undid the Kettleers as the hosting Harwich Mariners clinched the Cape Cod Baseball League title with a 2-1 victory. The Cotuit lineup featured some changes on Thursday night because team MVP Kevin Patterson along with second baseman Matt Holliman and pitcher Zack Von Tersch all left the team after Wednesday’s loss in order to report back to school on time. Jeff Schaus of Clemson assumed Patterson’s position at first base and relief pitcher Sam Brown (NC State) took over in left field.
Hernandez and Harwich’s Chris Manno (Duke) showed an estimated crowd of 6133 what was most likely the best pitchers’ duel of the summer. The two aces exchanged 1-2-3 first innings and then Schaus and designated hitter Joey Lewis of Georgia hit back-to-back singles. Schaus advanced to third on a hit-and-run but Manno worked out of the jam to keep the Kettleers off the scoreboard. Manno, although effective, showed some control problems at times and hit three Cotuit batters without receiving a warning from the home plate umpire. The Mariners countered with back-to-back two out singles against Hernandez but he retired Alex Hilliard (Vanderbilt) on a pop out to catcher Robert Stock (USC) to keep the score deadlocked at zero. The Mariners had baserunners in every inning except the fourth, seventh and eighth against Hernandez.
The Kettleers got men on in every inning except the sixth but were caught stealing three times in the contest. Twice of those outs ended the inning. The Cotuit bats got close to pushing a run across as Schaus and Lewis both reached again with one out. Second baseman Dallas Poulk of NC State tried to lay down a squeeze bunt but Manno quickly fielded it and flipped to Harwich catcher Tommy Medica (Santa Clara) to cut down Schaus and keep the game scoreless. The Kets finally broke through in the top of the seventh as Poulk was the third hitter to be drilled by a Manno fastball. Brown laid down a decent sacrifice bunt that Manno fielded but threw over second baseman Jason Stidham’s (Florida State) head allowing Poulk to advance to third on the throw. Stock came up to the plate with no outs and delivered a deep fly ball to right-center to play Poulk via the sacrifice fly and gave the Kettleers the game’s first run.
It seemed that the one run would be all that Hernandez would need as he retired the sides in order in the seventh and eight innings. Hernandez, to some surprise, came back out in the bottom of the ninth to face Harwich third baseman Joe Sanders (Auburn). Sanders got the most of Hernandez as he stroked a base hit to right field that got under a diving Evan Crawford (Indiana) and rolled to the wall. Sanders trucked around the bases and ended up with a leadoff triple. That would be Hernandez’s final batter as he was relieved by Stanford closer Drew Storen. Storen plunked the first batter he faced to put runners on first and third and then walked Chase Leavitt (Arkansas) to load the bases. Harwich manager Steve Englert lifted Hilliard for a pinch hitter in All-Star Mark Fleury of UNC. Storen battled with Fleury and appeared to have him struck out on a pitch right down the heart of the plate and at the knees but didn’t get the call from the home plate umpire. Fleury then crushed a 1-2 pitch into right center to win the game and the championship for Harwich.
“I’m proud of how these guys have grown up this summer,” Roberst said. Roberts has every reason to be proud of his team as they never quit all summer despite losing key player after key player. Some of the current Kettleers (Patterson, Seth Blair, Brendon Kelliher) will return next summer to defend their Western Division Title and once again try to reclaim their first Cape League Championship since 1999.