CHATHAM ─ In spite of some bumps along the way, the Chatham Anglers enjoyed a pretty magical summer in which they eked into the Cape League playoffs, but all good things must come to an end, including Chatham's 2016 season, which came to a close with losses to the Y-D Red Sox in the East Division finals.
But what a run it was. The Anglers hovered in last place, trailing behind Brewster in the points race until the final games of the regular season nudged them into the post season, in which they advanced by defeating the Harwich Mariners in two games of the best of three series (see adjoining story), setting up the East finals with the Sox, which began Aug. 8.
Although the Red Sox thought they'd easily put Chatham away, the Anglers gave them a real run for their proverbial money on Monday, opening the game with a two-run first thanks to scores from Mason Koppens, who came in on a Jeremy Vasquez single, and Gunnar Troutwine, who came in on an error by Y-D third baseman Will Toffey.
After a scoreless second, the Sox responded with a three-run third that included a two-run homer from Dillon Persinger, immediately followed by another homer from Kevin Smith to put Y-D up by one.
Undaunted, the Anglers tied the game in the fourth when Sean Bouchard came home for an unearned score, bringing the game's tally to 3-3. Another unearned run from Koppens in the fifth once again put the Anglers in the lead, but it was short lived as the Sox responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the frame, bringing the score to 5-4 in favor of the South Yarmouth hosts.
For the next two innings the game belonged to Y-D, who added another run in the sixth, and two more in the seventh to take a solid lead. Another in the eighth seemed to cement the game, but as the truest fans know, baseball is mercurial and anything can happen.
At the top of the ninth, Chatham's DJ Artis led off with a single to third, advancing to second on another single from Hunter Lee. The Anglers' next batter, Orlando Garcia, swung into a fielder's choice that trapped Artis in its net, but allowed Lee to reach second just in time for Jake Palomaki to bring him home with a single to second.
An error by Y-D Persinger at second base allowed Koppens to find footing at first, while allowing Garcia to score, further chipping away at the Sox lead. After Gunnar Troutwine struck out swinging for out number two, Sox fans were anticipating the game's end, but the Anglers had some unfinished business.
First, Jeremy Vasquez swung into a single that allowed Palomaki to score, bringing the Anglers within two and setting Chatham fans cheering. Then Stuart Fairchild reached on a single to second, loading the bases and forcing a pitching change by the Sox. A walk from Kyle Adams narrowed the score further, but unfortunately for the A's, Y-D closer Calvin Faucher forced a fielder's choice from Artis that ended the game with a final score of 9-8.
Tuesday night saw the teams take the field in Chatham, with the Sox plating two runs in the first to take an early lead that proved all but unshakable. Another run in the second made it 3-0, before confusion ensued in the fourth, resulting in a stoppage of play. It turned out that the Anglers' head coach John Schiffner made some batting lineup changes without notifying officials, resulting in an automatic out during Hagen Owenby's at bat.
“Schiff screwed up,” he said. “I made a mistake. I changed the lineup. I looked at the lineup card and went, 'Oh, I don't want to have two lefties hitting back-to-back,' so I changed it and with all the stuff going on I never went over to the original lineup card. That was a bonehead move on my part.”
In spite of the kerfuffle the A's remained in good spirits, continuing to seek that elusive run, which came in the fifth when Donovan Casey scored an unearned run on a Jake Palomaki putout. It would be the only run the Anglers would muster as the Sox went on to win 4-1 to advance to the championship against the winner of the Falmouth-Bourne contest.
In spite of the season-ending loss, Schiffner and his team were in high spirits, fondly recalling their singular summer of 2016.
Schiffner said what he'd remember most about the 2016 team was their heart.
“The heart they showed all year long,” he said. “They went through some tough times, guys leaving, some really, really tough losses, and they hung in there and battled back and were able to get into the playoffs, and into the next round. What a great accomplishment for these guys to do that. I'm so proud of them.”
The longtime head coach was particularly impressed with the determination of his team, and the initiative shown by many of his players, especially through roster and position changes.
“They just kept battling,” Schiffner said. “Some of these kids showed leadership and kept them together. Just the way they battled. They wouldn't give up. They had such a great attitude. They never let a big win take over them, and they never let a bad loss take them down.”
Schiffner added that their resilience in bouncing back from the toughest losses was noteworthy.
“I can think of a number of bad losses that we came right back the next day and had a nice win, or played far better,” he said.
Simon Mathews, who had one of the better games in the league during the playoffs, said he felt that playing for the A's was a boost to his skills.
“I think I grew a lot as a pitcher this summer,” said Mathews. “Every time I went out there I was facing guys who are just some of the best hitters in the country. I developed all my pitches, I got better, and I learned from the best. There's a reason Coach Schiffner's been around as long as he has.”
“The competition is very hard up here,” said left fielder DJ Artis. “I can play with the best up here and that makes me feel really good about myself.”
Kyle Adams, who spent two summers as an Angler, expressed gratitude for the chance to be a part of the team.
“I think it's just an unbelievable opportunity being able to come up here for two summers,” said Adams. “I'm thankful for being given the opportunity to play up here with a great group of guys and a great group of coaches. I'll always be thankful ... to play here.”
“[It's] the whole experience, being able to have the honor of being called up to the Cape,” said Koppens. “The atmosphere of the games, the people sitting out on the hill, just hanging out with my teammates, pretty much everything honestly.”
No doubt many of the team's players would agree.
“I continued to build the love of the game,” said Mathews. “This is the best place to play in the entire world, and I'm so grateful to have the opportunity.”
For a look back on Chatham's 2016 season, with additional player comments, photos, and more, see the Aug. 18 edition of Sports.