By: Shane Petagna (The University of Tampa)
Anything can happen when the Bourne Braves and Cotuit Kettleers meet in the first round of the 2023 CCBL Playoffs.
Cotuit enters as the top overall seed with the best record in the Cape league at 28-15-1. The Kettleers also won the West Division title, the team’s first since 2012. Bourne, on the other hand, comes into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed after navigating a slow start to the season.
However, there isn’t much separation between the teams when they share the field. The Braves and Kettleers split the season series 3-3, with the road team claiming every victory. Cotuit used rode two starts from Tucker Novotny (Minnesota) to win the first two contests at Doran Park, while Bourne’s offense surged in blowout wins in the first two meetings at Lowell Park. Over the last week, Cotuit won an 8-7 thriller on Jul. 26 and Bourne won 4-1 on Tuesday.
The Braves offense has been its strength, led by CCBL All-Stars Derek Bender (Coastal Carolina) and Bryce Eblin (Alabama). Both men finished in the top three in the batting title race and have an OPS above 1.000 as Eblin ended the season with a 15-game hit streak.
Overall, the team's offense excels at getting on base and likes to run on the bases, as the Braves lead the league on-base percentage, and stolen bases and are second in batting average.
Pitching-wise, the Braves are at their best when pounding the zone with strikes as they lead the league in walks allowed. Bourne also boasts a formidable 1-2 punch in the starting rotation between Tristan Smith and Bryce Cunningham.
Smith has a 1.56 ERA in five starts for the Braves, backed up by the All-Star Cunningham with a 2.38 ERA in five starts of his own. Out of the bullpen, Brady Afthim (UConn) and Gabe Driscoll (Binghamton) could prove to be effective arms. Afthim has a 1.80 ERA in nine relief appearances while Driscoll posted a 2.48 mark after moving up into the rotation late in the season.
Cotuit can line up just as an effective tandem of starting pitching between Camron Hill (Georgia Tech) and Janzen Keisel (Oklahoma St.). Hill boasts the league ERA title at 1.09 and started the All-Star game for the West Division. His 45 strikeouts are 2nd in the CCBL behind Cotuit’s own Cam Schuelke.
The Kettleers will be without Schuelke for the playoffs as the depth of the pitching staff continues to take hits over the last quarter of the season.
“It'll be by my gut and it'll be the guys that we think can throw the most quality strikes,” said Roberts on how the bullpen will be managed. “Because you gotta throw strikes to win in the playoffs because most of the games will be too close.”
While the bullpen usage will mostly be up in the air, the most consistent facet of the team from Opening Day to the end of the regular season has been the offense. Cotuit has the best power-hitting numbers in all of the Cape League, leading with 44 home runs and a .409 slugging percentage.
“It's tough to bundle four or five singles in a row,” said Roberts. “To be able to move through the regular season or the playoffs nowadays in this league, you gotta have a little bit of juice in the bats.”
The current sluggers include MVP candidate Cole Mathis (Col. of Charleston) and Sean Keys (Bucknell). Mathis’ 11 homers and 42 RBIs were good for second in the league behind Y-D’s Hunter Hines in both categories. Mathis had already claimed the Kettleers franchise record in runs driven in. Keys has been a force since he showed up in the village, batting .385 with 4 long balls and 17 RBIs in just 10 games.
Trevor Haskins (Stanford) will also be a staple in the middle of the lineup as he batted over .300 and manned the shortstop position over the last quarter of the season.
Other recent additions in Scott Seeker (Mount St. Mary’s) and Jeffery Heard (Oregon) from other summer leagues could make huge impacts in the lineup despite their recent arrivals to Cotuit. Seeker had a nice first stop of the summer playing for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks with a .937 OPS while Heard posted similar stats playing for the Bethesda Big Train in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League.
In the end, the most important thing for the Kettleers will be to worry about themselves and not the other team.
“I look at, ‘What do we got to do?’,” said Roberts. “And like I tell the guys, if we throw strikes, and we have less than two walks, and no errors on the board, no matter who we're playing, I don't care if it's the Boston Red Sox; I think we got a chance to win.”
The playoffs start Friday at Lowell Park with a start time set for 4 p.m.