By: Shane Petagna (The University of Tampa)
COTUIT, Mass. – Experience in the CCBL playoffs made all the difference for the Bourne Braves as they upset the Cotuit Kettleers in Game 1 of their first round series by a score of 14-8.
The Kettleers began the game shortly after taking home a handful of awards presented by CCBL officials, including the President’s Trophy for the best record in the Cape League and the Mike Curran Manager of the Year Award presented to Mike Roberts. Camron Hill (Georgia Tech) was also given the BFC Whitehouse Outstanding Pitcher Award before making his start and looked much like himself as he coasted through the first inning.
From there, the game didn’t go nearly as smoothly for Cotuit.
Hill lost his command in the second inning, as a hit batsman to lead off the top of the second inning later turned into a run on a two-strike single by Sam Petersen (Iowa) that came off a breaking ball left over the middle of the plate.
The Braves had a little bit of luck on their side in the frame as well, as two runs crossed home on a Garrett Michel (Virginia Tech) check-swing single into left field.
Hill found himself in another jam in the top of the third inning with two runners in scoring position and one out, but struck out two Bourne batters to escape without letting any more runs cross. However, the back-to-back long innings ran up his pitch count.
“Cam was at 71 pitches and this late in the summer, unless it was a championship game of the Cape League, there's no way I'm pushing somebody 85-90 pitches,” said Roberts. “So that was totally a pitch situation and we had hoped that he wouldn't escalate that much but I'm fine with pulling pitchers at this stage with 75 pitches.”
Cullen McKay (Virginia) entered out of the bullpen for the top of the fourth inning, where the playoff experience for the Braves began to pay off courtesy of veteran and member of the 2022 championship Josh Kuroda-Grauer (Rutgers). Following a two-out walk, the second baseman drove a fastball into the Cotuit bullpen to put the Braves up 5-0 on his first long ball of the summer.
Another player in his return to Bourne as the team attempts to run back its CCBL championship was starting pitcher and two-time All-Star Bryce Cunningham (Vanderbilt). The right-hander outdueled the Pitcher of the Year, shutting down the Ketts in his first three innings before surrendering a two-RBI double to Cole Mathis (Col. of Charleston) in the bottom of the fourth inning. Over his whole outing, Cunningham allowed those two runs and gave up seven hits while striking out four over 4 1/3 innings pitched.
The clutch hit from Mathis brought Cotuit back into the game, but shortly afterward the Braves extended their lead. Southpaw Teddy Brennan (George Washington) entered in the top of the sixth inning with a lane of 3 straight left-handed hitters to start his appearance. Michel and Gage Harrelson (Texas Tech) both singled to turn the lineup over before Jonathan Vastine (Vanderbilt) popped up for the second out of the inning.
Brennan stayed in the game to face the heart of the Bourne order, which proved to be costly. Kuroda-Grauer drove in his third run of the game on an opposite-field single before Derek Bender (Coastal Carolina) brought home two more runs on a double just out of the reach of Cotuit right fielder James McCoy (Kentucky). One more run scored on a Bryce Eblin base hit before Brennan could retire the last out, giving the Braves a 9-2 lead in a game they never trailed.
Both teams added runs late in the game, with Bourne holding as large as an 11-run advantage in the eighth inning. Mathis finished the game with a team-high three hits for the Ketts, while Trotter Harlan (Col. of Charleston) and Jeffery Heard (Oregon) finished with multi-hit games. Jack Scanlon (Miami) also had a pair of hits and 2 RBIs off the bench while McCoy blasted a 425 ft home run off one the best Braves relievers in Brady Afthim (UConn).
By the end of the game, the Kettleers scored 8 runs on 14 hits but struggled defensively allowing 14 hits, five walks, and committing three errors.
“We got to play the all-around game, not just one phase of the game,” said Roberts. “I'd rather win 1-0 I'll take a 14-13 win but I'd rather win 1-0.”
The Kettleers find themselves with their back against the wall down 1-0 in a best-of-three series to the Braves, who will host Game 2 Saturday at Doran Park at 6 p.m.
“Nobody's really focused too far ahead of tomorrow,” said Heard. “I know everyone's thought process is just on winning tomorrow and making sure when that first pitch comes out, we come with a lot of energy, a lot of fire and hopefully get the ‘W’ tomorrow.”