HARWICH – The sunset skies above Whitehouse Field were spectacular on Tuesday night, but all eyes were on the baseball field as fans watched with fingers crossed in the hopes their Harwich Mariners would come away with a win. Come away they did, playing to a 3-2 victory against Orleans in their season opener.
Up until the fifth inning it was a scoreless pitcher's duel as Harwich starter Garrett Stallings went toe-to-toe with Orleans starter Levi Stoudt, with Stallings lasting six innings with four hits, two runs and five strikeouts, while Stoudt went four innings with four hits, no runs, and three strikeouts.
The Mariners took a 1-0 lead in the fifth when Raymond Gil batted into a double, with Cameron Thompson landing on first with a walk. A single from Chris Galland loaded the bases, setting things up nicely for Tanner Morris, who hit a well-placed sac fly to plate Gil for the first run of the game.
The two Orleans runs came in the sixth inning when returning Orleans catcher Jaxx Groshans swung into an over-the-fence bomb that also brought in Brandon White who had reached on a single before advancing to second on a Harwich error.
With the Firebirds now leading 2-1, the game took on heightened energy, with fans from both sides excited for their team to claim the opening day victory. For a few minutes it looked like the W would go to the visitors, but when the Mariners stepped up in the bottom of the sixth, Daniel Casals reached on a walk before scoring on a double from Andre Lipcius to even the score at 2-all.
At the top of the seventh, Harwich swapped pitchers, with Christian Santana stepping in for Stallings, earning two quick outs before Quincy McAfee of the Firebirds doubled to right. A wild pitch saw McAfee land on third, but Santana regrouped, forcing Kevin Milam into the final out.
It took the Mariners until the end of the seventh to get that last run, but determination proved potent. With two outs on the scoreboard Gabriel Rivera singled to center before racing to second on a wild pitch from Orleans reliever Lucas Hall. Ben Norman then stepped in to run for Nate Eikhoff after Eikhoff reached on a walk, with Daniel Casals loading the bases on another walk.
Then it was time for some Mariner magic that happened partly because of a wild pitch on the part of Firebirds closer Kevin Kelly, who replaced Hall near the end of the inning. Capitalizing on Kelly's throw, Rivera blazed toward home plate before Lipcius drew the third out with a popup.
After a scoreless eighth it was up to Harwich closer Andrew Misiaszek who worked himself out of a jam to earn the save. With Groshans and Firebirds teammate Logan Wyatt on second and third after a sac fly, Misiaszek struck out Justin Lavey before forcing McAfee into a game-ending putout.
“It was a pretty typical Cape League game,” said Kelly Nicholson, head coach of the Firebirds. “Low scoring, well-pitched. They bunted early for a base hit and wound up getting a run, and then capitalized on a dropped popup and scored on a passed ball, so little things made the difference tonight. You just can't afford to do those things in a Cape League game when it's low scoring and it's game one of the summer.”
Nicholson gave kudos to Stoudt and Milam, along with
“I thought Levi Stoudt threw the ball really well, and Kevin Milam had good swings on the ball tonight for us,” he said. “Brandon White was pretty special out there in center field, too. That was one of the best catches I've seen in a long time.”
Nicholson was referring to a brilliant diving snag by White in the bottom of the fifth on a long fly ball from Gabriel Rivera that looked destined to become a homer before White's impressive grab.
Harwich head coach Steve Englert was pleased to come away with the win.
“It was great,” he said. “It's always nice to get that first one. Garrett Stallings pitched tremendously, very efficient, and we played great defense and got some timely hitting, which is always a recipe for success.”
Englert also dubbed the game a classic Cape League outing.
“I like the way we competed tonight,” he said. “We always have a dogfight with Orleans. It's always a tough game and comes down to the wire every time.”