BREWSTER/ORLEANS ─ It all came down to one run.
Unfortunately for the Orleans Firebirds, that run wasn't in their favor during the Cape League playoffs as it lifted the Brewster Whitecaps to a 2-1 victory that put them into the finals and in position to win their first CCBL Championship since 2000.
The Firebirds' final game started out in promising fashion with the league-leading home team taking an early one-run edge after Jimmy Herron scored on a double play at the bottom of the first. From then on, though, it was a duel, with both sides striving to keep the other off the scoreboard.
The Orleans bullpen managed to keep their opponents at bay until the fourth when a home run from Brewster's Kyle Datres evened the score to 1-1 before the game resumed its duel.
It was a game that passed by in a blur of 1-2-3 innings with only six hits on the Orleans side and just four from the Whitecaps, but it was an eighth inning bomb that proved the turning point for Brewster.
With the Firebirds' Josh Hiatt on the mound, Brewster quickly drew two outs, the first from Nick Dunn, who would eventually be crowned one of two series MVPs, and the second from Michael Gasper, giving Orleans fans hope. Then came Martin Costes to the plate, swinging into a deep home run that proved the game winner.
Though the Firebirds continued to battle through the bottom of the eighth and ninth innings, Brewster's stellar pitching put the game away as the final Orleans batters – Ethan Paul, Niko Decolati, and Stephen Scott – each struck out swinging in the final frame.
“Brewster deserved to win,” said Orleans head coach Kelly Nicholson. “They played a little bit better. They hit two home runs and held us to three hits, and pitched well.”
Nicholson dubbed the game a “typical Cape game.”
“It was a great division final game, probably not as great as their game against Y-D that went back and forth, but it was a really good ballgame,” he said. “It was well pitched, and a couple of bad pitches cost us when they capitalized. We tip our cap to Brewster. Let's hope the East wins it.”
They did, but not before previously triumphing over Orleans on Aug. 9 with a final score of 8-3 in Game 2 of the semifinals at Stony Brook. Once again the Firebirds took an early lead on a solo home run from Paul, extending it to 2-0 at the top of the second on a single from Jeff Houghtby, but the determined Whitecaps responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the second when Julian Infante sent one soaring over the left field fence that also brought in teammate Darius Hill, on second after belting a double.
From there the Whitecaps just kept going, scoring another run in the third and one more in the fourth before exploding in the seventh for three more, with an extra tacked on in the eighth for good measure.
Meanwhile, the Firebirds were stymied by the Brewster bullpen and only managed one more run in the outing in the sixth when Brandon Riley raced to second on an error before coming home on another error, narrowing the score to 4-3 Brewster, albeit temporarily.
The Whitecaps ultimately faced the Bourne Braves in the finals, winning two of the three games, claiming the Arnold Mycock Championship Trophy after winning Game 3 in a 2-0 shutout.
For the Firebirds, the Aug. 10 loss meant the bittersweet arrival of a post-season ritual: final autographs for eager fans and bidding friends goodbye.
“It's hard,” Said Nicholson. “We're going home tomorrow. You shift gears pretty fast.”
Nicholson was greatly impressed with his 2017 squad, which held the top spot in the Cape League for much of the season, earning the East Division crown with a record of 29-15.
“I think they really cared about one another,” said Nicholson. “They were great teammates and wanted to win, and had fun, and had guys like Steve Passatempo and Lars Nootbaar that kept everybody pretty loose.”
Passatempo said his first summer with the league was memorable.
“I'm going to miss coming to the field with these guys every day,” he said. “What I'm going to take is just the experience, playing with the best ballplayers in the country and the different atmospheres of different fields, the crowds, and just getting this team going. Trying to be the spark plug and get everybody involved in the game.”
Passatempo, who hails from Medford, played in 29 games with the Firebirds and praised the coaching staff.
“This coaching staff really just knows how to coach a team, and they do a very good job of it,” he said. “I learned how to get into a routine before games if I'm playing, and what to do on nights when I'm not in the lineup.”
He said being a part of what is known as the best college baseball league in the country gave him a new perspective on the game.
“You play with the best players and you become a better player yourself,” he said.
Lars Nootbaar also enjoyed his first summer with the Firebirds.
“Being on the Firebirds this season has been a great experience,” he said. “We've been able to win, and that's something I'll definitely bring back to college, being in a winning environment, but all the things I learned this year, hitting, the mental side of baseball, it's a huge part of baseball I think I've improved on this summer.”
He said he'll miss his teammates immensely.
“Just being around them every day,” he said. “You don't reach first place in the Cape Cod League without having a good group of guys.”
Texan Jaxx Groshans, who kicked off the final game with one more performance of the National Anthem, said there were no particular highlights, but instead felt the whole summer was special.
“Every single moment,” he said. “This is the best summer, hands down, I think I've ever had. It didn't end the way we wanted it to end but I wouldn't take it back. This is an unbelievable group of guys and I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.”