HARWICH/COTUIT – After a stellar playoff run that earned them the East Division championship, the Harwich Mariners bid a bittersweet farewell to Cape Cod last weekend after falling in the finals to Cotuit.
It was a summer of tenacity for the 2019 Mariners, who, after a bumpy start, found themselves battling their way out of the bottom of the East Division, doing so just in time to make the playoffs, where they ultimately defeated Chatham and Y-D to claim the East Division crown and reach the finals.
Little did either Cotuit or Harwich know when they faced each other in Game 1 of the Cape League Championship that it would become one of the longest outings in Cape League history, lasting five hours with 15 innings.
The visiting Kettleers, whose fans and players were issued a warning for unsportsmanlike behavior at Whitehouse Field, took an early lead in the Aug. 8 game when Oraj Anu hit a three-run homer in the opening frame.
The Mariners responded in the bottom of the second when a double from catcher Patrick Winkel brought in Joey Wiemer, Jr., and Cory Acton, narrowing Cotuit's lead to 3-2 as Harwich fans cheered.
Another Cotuit run in the top of the fourth extended their lead slightly, but Winkel, his bat on fire, swung into a mighty home run that sailed up and over the 400-foot mark on the center field fence, again narrowing the Kettleers' lead.
After two scoreless innings, Chris Galland helped knot the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh with a single to left that brought in Hal Hughes. Then, in the eighth, came Winkel with yet another homer over the center field fence, this one a two-run bomb that brought in Acton, giving Harwich a two-run lead.
Unfortunately that lead was short lived as the Kettleers plated two more runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 6-6, with the Mariners sending it into extra innings when no score was had in the bottom of the frame.
A scary moment ensued in the bottom of the ninth when Harwich's Chris Galland was hit in the face by a wild pitch, momentarily stopping game play as Galland was helped off the field by team trainer Taylor Murray before game play resumed.
For the four innings that followed, the respective bullpens went to work, keeping each team's batters off the scoreboard as the deadlock continued. Then, at the top of the 15th inning, Cotuit's Adam Oviedo came home on a single from Nick Gonzales, breaking the tie. While the Mariners had their chances in their half of the inning, three strikeouts brought the game to an end.
The next afternoon found the teams at Lowell Park with Galland, in good spirits in spite of a minor injury, cheering on his Mariners from the dugout. The Kettleers once again took an early lead, but this time there was no relinquishing it. Although Harwich's Riley Tirotta and Niko Kavadas both scored homers in the top of the fifth, the Kettleers responded with six runs of their own in the fifth, erasing any hopes of a Mariner rally.
While it wasn't the way Harwich head coach Steve Englert wanted the season to end, he gave his team high praise for clawing their way nearly to the top, a testament to their never-give-up attitude.
“It's always hard when you come down to this stage of the season and it ends on you, not the way you wanted it to,” Englert said. “But heck, we made a helluva run there at the end. We got hot at the right time, and these guys didn't cash it in on one pitch. They played to the very end.”
Englert was impressed with his team's determination.
“We played 22 straight and these kids grinded,” Englert said. “They came to work every day. It's very rare you get a team where everyone is collectively all in. These kids were all in and it was a pleasure. I enjoyed the heck out of this summer.”
The team, Englert said, struck a good balance between having fun and doing the work necessary to improve their baseball skills.
“Their work ethic was tremendous,” he said, also giving a nod to his coaching staff. “I've got a great coaching staff. My organization, I think, is the best in the whole league. I say that from the heart. It's a tough thing when it all ends like this.”
Chris Galland said his two seasons with the Mariners will always be a highlight of his college baseball career.
“There's a million things I could take away from this summer,” he said. “Being a part of this team. The coaches here are awesome. Ben, Biz (Layton), the whole organization is incredible. I've been saying it for two years now but this is the best place to play on the Cape.”
Galland, who attends Boston College, said the friendships he made across two seasons will last a lifetime.
“I'm just happy that I've made these friends,” he said. “My teammates, I'm going to be talking to them for the rest of my life. I'm just blessed to be here.”
First-year Mariner Niko Kavadas had similar sentiments.
“The experiences and all of the friendships that were created this year were absolutely incredible,” Kavadas said. “This opportunity is unlike any other. I had so much fun. I'll never forget these guys and the bond we shared, it's unbreakable.”
Kavadas said in terms of baseball, competing among the best of the best definitely helps improve one's skills.
“Down here you're facing the best pitching there is,” he said. “There's a lot of adversity that comes with that. A lot of missing barrels. [It's about] just being able to deal with that adversity, make adjustments, and come out better for it.”
“It was an awesome experience,” said Wiemer. “A lot of talent out here. There was no taking a night off and I'm grateful for that. The pitching out here was top tier, so taking away little things from every at bat will help me with my game.”
Weimer said he'll long remember the camaraderie between teammates, a lasting bond.
“It was a fun team,” he said. “It wasn't a typical team. Every day was awesome.”
Catcher Patrick Winkel tipped his cap to the Cape League's talent.
“I think I'm going to take away just how talented some of the players are across the country,” he said. “It's certainly the league that people said it was. The competition is amazing, the pitching's amazing, and it's a great experience to take into next season.”
Winkel said being able to catch for some of the top pitchers from schools across the country helped improve his own skills immensely.
“Being able to catch the arms I got to catch this year, some of the best in the country,” he said. “And one big thing is being able to call a game. Coaches call the game in a college season, so being able to come up here and figure out how you should call a game, what pitches to throw in different counts is something I think is super valuable to take into the future.”