Firebirds Tie Y-D Red Sox In Cape League Return

By: Brad Joyal

Topics: Cape Cod Baseball League , Orleans Firebirds

Orleans Town Selectman Mefford Runyon gives the Firebirds fist bumps before the team's season opener against the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox on Sunday at Eldredge Park. BRAD JOYAL PHOTO

ORLEANS – Folding chairs lining Eldredge Park’s grassy hillside hours before the first pitch was thrown marked the first sign of Cape League baseball’s return to Orleans.

The Firebirds faithful that arrived early were rewarded, as the team jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead against the visiting Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the first inning of Sunday’s season opener.

Although the Firebirds and Red Sox ultimately finished in a 4-4 tie, longtime Orleans manager Kelly Nicholson was in a jovial mood about the first impression he gained from his club.

“I thought it was a good first game,” Nicholson said. “I just told the pitchers that pitched tonight that I was proud of each and every one of them. They all did some good stuff. We did some good things offensively and we did some good things defensively and I thought educationally, baseball-wise, it was good for us tonight. I think we learned a lot in nine innings.”

Returning Firebird Luke Keaschall, a third baseman from University of San Francisco, reached base three times to lead the offense. He finished 2 for 3 with a solo home run and a walk in his return to Orleans.

Keaschall said Sunday’s big performance modeled his top priority for this summer: staying aggressive.

“Last summer I played pretty well and I stayed pretty aggressive,” said Keaschall, who hit .321 in 84 at-bats last summer. “From that summer to this summer, I feel like I added a lot of tools to my belt, so I’m just trying to stay aggressive and put good swings on baseballs.”

Although he only had a small sample size of a couple practices and Sunday’s game, Keaschall described this year’s Firebirds squad as “a great group of guys.”

“We’re a little bit on the younger side, which I really like because that way we’re going to be a team all summer and we’ll be with each other,” he said. “I think that’s a positive note for us because that way we can grow even more chemistry.”

Nicholson said he wanted to build a team of good ballplayers and good people.

“We’re just looking for the elite talent with elite character,” the manager said. “We want guys who are going to fit in and understand the way we do things, and I think right now there are some really good guys on this team.”

The skipper was pleased with the pitching performances the Firebirds received against an aggressive Y-D lineup that showed it had lots of pop.

Wyatt Loncar, a 6-foot-6 righty from Ohio State, earned the start for Orleans. He surrendered five hits and three earned runs over three innings, including a two-run home run to Pascanel Ferreras (Western Carolina) in the top of the second inning and a solo shot to Luke Franzoni (Xavier) in the third.

Although Loncar saw the 3-0 lead the Firebirds built during their four-hit first inning slip away, Nicholson said the righty showed a lot to like, particularly his fastball.

“I thought his fastball was coming out of his hand pretty good,” Nicholson said. “He’s a big intimidating guy and was hitting 90, 91 [mph] and he was beating guys with his fastball and then gave up a cheap hit with his slider and gave up a homer on a slider — his third best pitch. So, I think he learned from that tonight and hopefully that won’t happen again.”

Loncar handed the ball over to Wisconsin Milwaukee right-hander AJ Blubaugh, who struck out three and allowed just one hit during two innings of scoreless relief. Georgia State reliever Cam Jones gave up the tying run — a solo homer by Cole Carrigg — that made it 4-4 in the seventh, though that was the only hit he allowed through two innings.

Orleans reliever Tommy Hopfe (Fresno State) got out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth before handing it off to Josh Allen (Duke) with two outs in the ninth.

“It was rough,” Hopfe said about the dangerous eighth inning. “Things weren’t working right for me. I just tried to locate and it wasn’t working, but we got out of it and that’s all that matters.”

Although it wasn’t the victory the team had hoped for, Nicholson said he was happy with what he saw.

“I really enjoyed watching them play,” the manager said. “I liked their personality and their togetherness in the dugout tonight.”

Email Brad Joyal at brad@capecodchronicle.com.

Twitter: @BradJoyal