Cotuit, MA- The Cotuit Kettleers got their season underway on Sunday evening against the Wareham Gateman on a perfect night at Lowell Park. The defending Champions started their 2021 season the same way they ended their 2019 season 671 days ago, with a win. The Kettleers topped the Gatemen by a score of 8-5. At the plate, the Ketts produced nine hits. Eight of the nine starters collected a hit. On the mound, six pitchers combined to allow eight hits and three walks. In the field, Cotuit made just one error.
Justin Meis (Eastern Michigan) got the opening day nod for the Kettleers. The right-handed pitcher pumped in a 93-MPH fastball to start the summer. Meis ran his fastball into the mid-90’s and kept it low in the zone to get two quick grounders for the first two outs. After a two-out single and an error, Eric Brown (Coastal Carolina) snagged a line drive to strand two Gatemen on base.
Blake Klassen (UC Santa Barbara) led off the bottom half with Cotuit’s first hit of the season, a line drive single up the middle. Klassen was quickly erased off the base paths on a strong throw from the Wareham catcher for the first out of the inning. The caught stealing helped Nick Clayton, Wareham’s starter, settle in and retire the next two batters for a scoreless first.
After Meis posted a 1-2-3 second inning, the Kettleers took advantage of a couple Wareham miscues. RJ Schreck (Duke) reached base on an error to start the frame. After a fielder’s choice, Ben Rice (Dartmouth) walked on four pitches to put two runners on base with two outs for Brown. Brown came through in a big moment to ignite the crowd at Lowell Park. The Coastal Carolina second baseman took advantage of a favorable count and launched a no-doubt home run over the left field fence. The blast plated the first three runs of the 2021 season, as the Kettleers opened an early 3-0 lead.
Meis followed the crooked number with a shutdown inning on the mound. The Eastern Michigan product needed just 13 pitches to retire the side in order. The 1-2-3 inning made it seven straight batters retired by the right-handed pitcher. Cole Cummings (UC Santa Barbara) lined a one-out single into the outfield in the third, but the Kettleers couldn’t capitalize after a strikeout and a fly-out.
The Gatemen started to find barrels against Meis in the fourth. After a leadoff walk, Owen Diodati got Wareham on the board with a two-run homer over the right field fence. Meis’ day came to an end after a single and his first strikeout. Dalton Rhadans (Wofford) entered the game out of the pen with one out and one runner on. The side-armer presented a different look on the mound, which led to struggles at the plate for the Gatemen. Rhadans stranded two runners on base with a strikeout and a pop up. The crucial outs kept the Kettleers in the lead heading to the bottom of the fourth.
The Cotuit lineup had an immediate response to Wareham’s two-spot. After walking in his first at-bat, Rice ripped a double into the opposite field gap to put a runner in scoring position for John Rhodes (Kentucky). Rhodes lined out to the right field warning track in the second inning. This time, he got a line drive to drop. The outfielder lined a ball into left field to score Rice and sped around first for a hustle double. Ryan Ritter (Kentucky) extended the lead to three with a single of his own into left. The Kettleers led 5-2 through four after the RBI knocks from the Kentucky products.
After a leadoff double for the Gateman, Mike Roberts turned to Andre Granillo (UC Riverside) on the mound with a runner in scoring position and no outs. Granillo retired the first two batters he faced, including a strikeout on a front-door slider for out #2, but Diodati bit the Kettleers again. The left-handed hitter doubled into the left-center gap to cut the lead to two. Granillo limited the damage to one with another strikeout to end the frame. The strikeout came on a 96-MPH fastball on the black.
The Kettleers went down in order in the fifth, but Granillo got Cotuit right back to the plate with a 1-2-3 inning of his own. The right-handed pitcher struck out two batters for the second straight inning. Schreck led off the bottom half with a broken bat single, but the Kettleers couldn’t get anything going after that. Despite two straight scoreless innings at the plate, Granillo kept the Ketts up two as he mowed down the Gatemen hitters. The UC Riverside pitcher worked around a two-out single for a scoreless seventh. He closed out the frame with his fifth strikeout of the night. Granillo posted a final line of 3.0 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 5 K’s, and 0 R.
Joey Walsh (Boston College) took the mound to begin the eighth inning after the Kettleers were set down in order. Walsh’s second pitch was driven deep to center field, but Rhodes was able to haul it in before crashing into the fence for out #1. After the well-struck fly-out, Walsh settled in to retire the next two hitters. He froze the final hitter of the inning with a fastball for strike three looking.
The Ketts got insurance in the eighth with some help from the Gatemen. Cummings reached base on a hit-by-pitch to lead off the inning. Dylan Beavers (California) followed with an infield single to put two on with no outs. Schreck moved both runners over with a sacrifice bunt. Cummings came across the plate on a wild pitch to push the lead back to three. Rice capitalized with two runners in scoring position and one out. The catcher lined a single up the middle, his second hit, to drive in both runners and extend the lead to five.
Walsh jogged back out to the mound to start the ninth. The southpaw induced a fly-out to right for out #1. A hit-by-pitch and a single ended Walsh’s day as Roberts made his way out to the mound. TJ Brock (Ohio State) took over with two on and one out. Brock ran his fastball up to 99 MPH, but struggled to find the strike zone. After two walks and a wild pitch cut the lead to three, Alaska Abney took over on the mound with two RISP and one out. Abney was able to shut the door on the Wareham rally in just four pitches. The side-armer fielded a weak grounder back to the mound and threw to first for out #2. Classen fired home to gun down a runner trying to swipe home to end the game on a 1-3-2 double play. Abney picked up the save, while Granillo got the W.
We caught up with Eric Brown after the game. Brown mentioned that winning the opening day game was crucial for their squad. The 2021 Kettleers are hoping to live up to the accomplishments of the 2019 Kettleers. On the game one win, Brown said, “It was huge. We heard about the 2019 team winning the title, we don’t really feel any pressure, but we take that as a challenge to come back and defend the title.”
For Brown, like many new Kettleers, this was his first game on the Cape. The Coastal Carolina infielder raved about the crowd and community generated in Cotuit. “It was amazing. You’re seeing everybody, seeing my host family, my host dad, and just seeing the whole community rally just to root us on. It’s pretty cool.”
Brown finished the night 1-4 with his three-run homer. The right-handed hitter mentioned that the homer was squared up so well that he barely felt the ball leave the bat. “You don’t feel it coming off the bat. I mean, if you square ball up, you really don’t feel it. So I could, it felt good. Let’s just say.”
Brown credited Coach Roberts for his home run, after recently working on a cheat swing for fastballs in favorable counts. The middle infielder put some of Roberts’ lessons on full display in game one. Brown praised Roberts, saying, “He’s a book. If you just open your ears, you will learn something from him, from base running, to hitting, to fielding, he’s outstanding.”
After the strong showing on opening day, Brown is confident heading into the rest of the 40-game season. “I feel really confident. I’ve learned some things towards the end of the spring. I just give credit to some of my teammates for putting me in that situation.”
The Kettleers will be back on the field tomorrow in Hyannis to take on the Harbor Hawks at 6:00 PM.