SEAN TENAGLIA (Gatemen Beat Writer)
WAREHAM, MA: With the game-winning run at second base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Chris Chinea (LSU) took two massive cuts at consecutive pitches from Orleans reliever Hayden Stone (Vanderbilt).
Chinea looked as if he wanted to smash the ball through the goalpost beyond the centerfield wall at Spillane Field, but he whiffed on both pitches. Down 0-2 to Stone, the LSU catcher shortened his swing and ripped a single past the shortstop and into left field. Wareham shortstop Blake Lacey (USC), who was thrown out at the plate to end the bottom of the fifth inning, rounded third and slid into home headfirst, this time just ahead of the throw from Orleans left fielder Brett Stephens (UCLA).
Chinea’s RBI single gave the Gatemen (11-22-1) their second consecutive win and their first walk-off victory since the final day of the 2012 regular season. For the second straight night, the Gatemen plated the winning run in the ninth inning, as they defeated the Orleans Firebirds 3-2.
In yet another big spot for the Gatemen, Chinea delivered with his team-leading 17th RBI of the summer. His walk-off hit could not have come at a better time, as with the win, the Gatemen moved within three points of Hyannis for the final playoff spot in the Western Division.
Lacey shined in the batter’s box for Wareham on Monday night, going 3-4 with a run scored and an RBI. With the Gatemen trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, the USC shortstop delivered a one-out RBI single to plate designated hitter Danny Rosenbaum (Louisville) to tie the game. Lacey now has two three-hit games in the last three days and credits a change in his approach to his offensive resurgence.
“I felt like I was trying to get too long early, so my biggest thing has just been putting the bat on the ball more,” Lacey said. “I’m just trying to make good contact without trying to do too much with the pitches.”
After getting gunned down at the plate earlier in the ballgame, Lacey was thrilled to have the opportunity to re-enact the play and score the game-winning run.
“It was awesome because me and the coaches were talking about how to get a good lead in those situations,” Lacey said. “The middle infielders were playing back, so I knew that it would be a close play at home, especially because the left fielder had showed earlier that he had a good arm.
“I was hoping to just get in there and slide past the catcher instead of into him, so it was such a relief to score.”
The Gatemen remained in the game with the red-hot Firebirds courtesy of an excellent outing on the mound from Liam O’Sullivan (Saint Leo). In his first start of the summer, O’Sullivan showed no jitters going up against the league’s top offense. He tossed 6.2 innings, allowing four hits and two runs while striking out five Orleans batters. Wareham Head Coach Cooper Farris was very impressed with O’Sullivan’s performance, especially with the team’s bullpen depth weakened in recent games.
“We needed to get at least six innings from him,” Farris said. “Our bullpen was real thin tonight. He gave us a quality start and kept us in the ballgame.”
The Saint Leo right-hander threw 125 pitches in his outing, and despite running into trouble in a few innings, he was able in large part to quiet the hot Orleans bats. O’Sullivan credited a portion of his strong performance to his ability to locate pitches in the strike zone.
“I had to throw all of my pitches for strikes at any time,” O’Sullivan said. “It was definitely good to locate all my pitches. They’re a good hitting team, so I had to be locked in for every pitch.”
He also credited his longevity on the mound to the fantastic fielding display put on by his teammates behind him. Second baseman Kramer Robertson (LSU) put on a show and exhibited his incredible range with multiple diving stops that helped the Gatemen escape jams without harm.
“I definitely owe him,” O’Sullivan said. “I’ll have to buy him lunch or something like that. He made some unbelievable plays behind me and I was just thanking him time and time again.”
The Firebirds did get to O’Sullivan to take a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth inning when first baseman David Thompson (Miami) drilled a one-out, two-run single into right-centerfield. O”Sullivan then got left fielder R.J. Ybarra (Arizona State) to pop out to centerfield and Jake Little (Memphis) delivered a strike to the plate to double off David Fletcher (Loyola Marymount) to end the inning and minimize the damage.
Orleans would not score again as O’Sullivan and relievers Andrew Zapata (Connecticut) and Jason Richman (Georgia Southern) combined to toss 4.0 shutout innings to close the ballgame. With the game tied at 2-2, Zapata and Richman did an excellent job to escape a couple jams and strand three Firebirds runners on base in the eighth and ninth innings. Lacey and Chinea would take care of the rest in the bottom of the ninth to send the Gatemen home with a win.
Farris was satisfied to see his team’s attitude improve as they tried to scrape out the win in yet another low-scoring game.
“It feels great,” Farris said. “I’m proud of the guys because they worked hard. We didn’t look real good doing it, but we got it done.
“I think the biggest thing now is that they’re competing. They aren’t afraid. We just have to keep doing that and getting after it.”
The Gatemen now enter one of the most crucial periods of their entire season with a home-and-home series against Hyannis on Tuesday and Wednesday. Only three points behind the Harbor Hawks for fourth place in the Western Division, the Gatemen have an opportunity to leapfrog into playoff position with a pair of wins. They will get their first crack at Hyannis Tuesday night when they travel to McKeon Park (6 p.m. ET).
As always, you can watch the live stream of the game by accessing our “Gatemen Pressbox” page. The pre-game show begins around 5:40 p.m. Like the Wareham Gatemen Baseball Facebook page and follow @WarehamGatemen for all the latest news on the team.