By SEAN TENAGLIA (Gatemen Beat Writer)
HYANNIS, MA: Third baseman Andrew Knizner (NC State) came through for the Gatemen in arguably their most important at-bat this season. With the score knotted at 4-4 in the top of the seventh and runners at second and third with two outs, Knizner stepped into the batter’s box against Hyannis reliever Ryan Perez (Judson). The NC State third baseman ripped a 2-2 pitch into right-centerfield, bringing around second baseman Willie Calhoun (Arizona) and centerfielder Jake Little (Memphis) to give the Gatemen a 6-4 lead.
Knizner’s two-run single capped a comeback that saw the Gatemen (3-6) rally from a 4-1 deficit in Hyannis to earn a 7-5 victory over the Harbor Hawks. For the first time since the 2012 playoffs, the Gatemen have now won back-to-back games and seem poised to turn things around after a rough first week of the season.
Knizner finished the night 3-4 with 3 RBIs and a run scored and provided the Gatemen with clutch hitting when they needed it most. Knizner has been on fire since moving to the five-spot in the Wareham lineup, but did not attribute his offensive success to changes in the batting order.
“Where I’m hitting in the lineup doesn’t really change much,” Knizner said. “I think it’s just more important to have a good mental approach and make changes where they’re needed and put the barrel of the bat to the ball.
“I just tried to slow things down and take my time at the plate to really see some pitches. I tried to put some good swings on the ball today and they just happened to fall in.”
Head Coach Cooper Farris had high praise for Knizner, who has started every game for the Gatemen at third base this season.
“We’re trying to get him to see the ball well,” Farris said. “Andrew’s just a good hitter. He’s got one of the purest swings I’ve seen since I’ve been up here, and he’s just got a good idea of what he’s doing here.”
In what is becoming a familiar sight for Gatemen fans, second baseman Willie Calhoun (Arizona) led off the game with a first-pitch double down the right field line. Calhoun now leads the Cape League with seven doubles on the summer. Calhoun advanced to third and came around to give Wareham a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly from centerfielder Jake Little (Memphis).
The Harbor Hawks responded by tying the game in the bottom of the second when centerfielder Ben DeLuzio (Florida State) smashed a solo home run off Wareham starting pitcher Ryan Olson (San Diego) over the left field wall. They then took a 2-1 lead on a single to right field from second baseman Matthew Britton (Mississippi State) that brought around first baseman Jarret DeHart (LSU) to score.
Hyannis added another run in the bottom of the fourth when designated hitter Donnie Dewees Jr. (North Florida) crossed the plate on an RBI single up the middle from shortstop Dylan Bosheers (Tennessee Tech).
Olson was cruising through the fifth inning when left fielder Daniel Kihle (Wichita State) hit a two-out double off the left field wall and third baseman Carl Wise (Charleston) walked. It appeared Olson would escape the jam when Dewees Jr. hit a routine groundball to second, but the ball got between Calhoun’s legs, giving the Harbor Hawks a 4-1 lead.
Olson struggled in his first start of the summer for the Gatemen, allowing five hits and four runs while striking out five over 4.2 innings. However, the Wareham offense looked lost in the early innings against Hyannis starter Blake Hickman (Iowa) and provided Olson with little room with which to work. Farris talked to his team mid-game and tried to rally the troops to get the hits rolling once again.
“I thought our at-bats were slipping away from us early in the game,” Farris said, “and I got after them and said, ‘Look, let’s just get back to those at-bats we’ve been having lately. Stay within yourself and quit trying to do too much.’
“They weren’t competing very well, and I’m just very proud they bounced back and started competing.”
“Coop’s Scoop” – Postgame interview with Manager Cooper Farris – Click below to listen to interview
The Gatemen did break through in the top of the sixth by capitalizing on three Hyannis errors. Centerfielder Charlie Warren (Rice) reached after Wise was unable to corral a chopper to the hot corner. Little then singled to center to put runners at first and second with no outs and chase Hickman from the game.
Knizner came up big by singling down the right field line off reliever Perez, as Warren came around to score. Designated hitter Chris Chinea (LSU) then chopped what appeared to be a simple groundball to third, but Wise’s throw to second base was wild. Little came in to score to cut the deficit to 4-3. With two outs, Kramer Robertson (LSU) pinch hit for Blair Beck (Kansas) and hit a high chopper over the mound that grazed off Bosheers’ glove, allowing Knizner to come around to score the tying run. Knizner’s two-out two-run single in the seventh put the Gatemen up for good.
Game Highlights from the Gatemen Broadcast Team – Click below to listen to interview
Just when everything seemed to be going the Gatemen’s way, a few defensive mishaps nearly cost them the game. Dewees Jr. led off the bottom of the eighth against reliever Ryan Williamson (NC State) by hitting a pop-up to centerfield. Both Little and Warren lost the ball in the lights and Dewees Jr. cruised into second. DeLuzio then hit a straightforward ball to centerfield that Little struggled to find and ultimately dropped, putting runners at second and third with no outs. The Harbor Hawks cut the score to 6-5 with one out, and Williamson got Britton to pop out to third for the second out of the inning.
With the tying run at third and go-ahead run at first, reliever Scott Effross (Indiana) stepped into an incredibly pressure-packed situation. Facing pinch hitter Bobby Melley (Connecticut), who had three hits against the Gatemen in Wareham on Tuesday, Effross took the mound and calmly got Melley to strike out swinging to end the threat. After the Gatemen added an insurance run on Chinea’s ground out to the shortstop, Effross returned for the bottom of the ninth to close out the Harbor Hawks with a 1-2-3 inning. Farris called the Indiana right-hander’s performance “outstanding.”
The Gatemen now have four consecutive games with double-digit hits and will look to build on their two-game winning streak Saturday when they journey east to Orleans for a matchup with the Firebirds (7 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 6:40 p.m. Like the Wareham Gatemen Baseball Facebook page and follow @WarehamGatemen for all the latest news on the team.
Player of the Game – Andrew Knizner (NC State) – Click below to listen to interview