Birds fall short in hard-fought battle with Y-D


(Above photo by Sophia Soropoulos)

In a rematch of last year's semifinals, the Firebirds played host to the current East-leading Y-D Red Sox.

Despite Y-D carrying the East Division's best record, it has struggled to make consistent contact, though not nearly to the extent of the Birds. The Sox and Birds are the two least efficient hitting offenses in the league numbers-wise, yet Y-D still boasts 19 more hits than Orleans.

As spectators would go on to see, however, the final hit of the game would prove that this Firebirds team has more than capable hitters; it's just about finding their rhythm.

On the other hand, Orleans pitchers have been in a rhythm since Game 1, particularly Michael Foltz (George Washington), who has logged the most innings for the Birds and holds the team's lowest ERA.

Foltz, who saw his second start of the summer in the matchup with Y-D, quickly delivered two strikes to Red Sox infielder Phoenix Call (UCLA). However, he couldn't quite finish the punchout, hitting Call with his next pitch. A balk eventually moved Call to second, where Foltz would strand him with a throw-out to first.

To get the night going for the Birds' offense, Roch Cholowsky (UCLA) extended his on-base streak to eight games by doing what he has done more often than striking out this summer: earn a walk. Micah Bucknam (Louisiana State) recovered from handing out the early free passes, promptly retiring the next two Birds hitters.

The game remained scoreless after yet another night of dominant pitching at Eldredge, until the Firebirds' leadoff man, Mike Mancini, (James Madison) drilled his first homer of the summer over the right field fence.

The Sox wasted no time responding to Mancini's solo homer, as Easton Carmichael (Oklahoma), who got on base after a force out at second, would round the bases without Y-D having to record a hit. A throwing error by Mancini in an attempt to complete the double play after the force out allowed Carmichael to advance to second, and a wild pitch sent him to third.

Ethan Petry (South Carolina) immediately brought in Carmichael on a sacrifice fly to tie the game at one heading into the bottom of the fourth.

After Bucknam and Foltz traded 1-2-3 innings, and with the Birds failing to get anything going in the bottom of the fifth, manager Kelly Nicholson made his first pitching change, running out Matt Ager (UC Santa Barbra) for his Firebirds debut.

Y-D quickly put a runner in scoring position after an error from the Birds outfield allowed Will Tippett (South Carolina) to move to second.

After recording two quick outs, it seemed Ager would escape his first outing unscathed. However, that hope abruptly changed when Carmichael sent a two-run homer over the left field fence, giving Y-D a 3-1 lead.

As the Sox had responded in the fourth, the Firebirds did the same to lead off the sixth. After Cholowsky efficiently earned a four-pitch walk, Hudson Shupe advanced him to third with a ground ball that found the gap between first and second.

After strike three to Khadim Diaw, Y-D catcher Charlie Saum (Stanford) attempted to pick off Cholowsky at third, but the throw was errant. Cholowsky capitalized on the throwing error, sprinting home to bring the Birds back within one.

After Ager got the Birds safely through the top frame of the seventh to keep them within one, the Birds loaded the bases with no outs. This was the second time in the past two games the Birds managed to load the bases with all three outs to spare, the prior, Wednesday's loss in Falmouth, where they stranded all three base runners.

This time around, the Birds took advantage of the best scoring opportunity in baseball, as a Mancini sacrifice fly brought in Jack Gurevitch (San Diego) from third to tie the game at three.

Brendan Walker was next out of Nicholson's bullpen for the Birds, and unfortunately, he was unable to prevent a go-ahead run. With a runner on first and second, Wehiwa Aloy drove an RBI into right field, which brought in both runners, giving the Sox a late two-run lead.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Birds looked to put together a game-winning rally to help turn around their season.

As hope began to dwindle after the first two Orleans hitters were retired, Colin Tuft (Tulane) walked up to the plate with a chance to swing the momentum in the final moments of the game.

On the third pitch of Tuft's at-bat, he sent the ball flying deep into center field, where the last person to homer was the legendary Frank Thomas.

With Tuft's rocket not appearing to slow down, he began sprinting the bases, anticipating a big play, if not a rare homer into the graveyard that is straight-away center at Eldredge. The ball began to drop short on the warning track, but Call was ready to go home. Call made an unbelievable, diving, left-handed catch to end the game in devastating fashion for Orleans.

The Birds will look to end their three-game skid when they see Brewster for the second time of the summer, on Friday at 5 p.m.