It seems that no matter where you put a Gatemen infielder on the diamond, he is bound to step up.
For the third game in a row on Monday night, Wareham was led by terrific middle infield defense from Nico Giarratano, Preston Grand Pre, and Cole Freeman. On the mound, Zachary Pop, Gunner Leger, and Casey Mize combined to surrender just one run on six hits as the Gatemen displayed a firework show of their own on July 4th, knocking off Bourne (11-9-1) for the second straight day, 2-1, at Spillane Field.
The win moves the Gatemen (12-8-1) into sole possession of first place in the Western Division, and improves their record in one-run games to 9-3.
Wareham coach Jerry Weinstein explained that in order to walk away with a title, the Gatemen have to be able to win one run games.
“You win one run games, you win championships,” said Weinstein. “Championship teams win close games. They make the big pitches. Its great from a development standpoint when you are playing all close games and every pitch is important. The one run games just emphasize the important of that single pitch.”
Perhaps the most notable takeaway from the Gatemen’s past three games has been the offensive production that they have got out of the catcher’s spot.
After two hits yesterday out of Harrison Wenson (Michigan), the Gatemen got two more Monday night – including one RBI base hit – off the bat of Joey Bart (Georgia Tech).
Wenson and Bart, meanwhile, also to seem to becoming slowly more accustomed to catching a pitching staff they came into this summer completely unfamiliar with.
Over Wareham’s last three games, the Gatemen staff has surrendered just five walks and thrown 68-percent of their pitches for strikes (232/341).
Bart said having to work with a whole new pitching staff was a much tougher challenge than he had expected.
“It’s extremely tough at first,” said Bart. “You have to really sit down and do your homework on them. You have to be in the (bullpen) beforehand and after games, get to practice early, figuring out what they want and what their out pitch is. Mainly, its all preparation because if you get into the game and you don’t prepare you are going to struggle.”
Pop made the start for the Gatemen on Independence Day, and had without a doubt his best outing to date.
Through five innings of work, Pop let up just one run while scattering four hits, walked two, and struck out three.
Ever since Pop arrived this Cape Cod Baseball League season, he has been working on a three-pitch mix that includes a fastball, slider, and a changeup. That was on full display on Monday night, as the right-hander out of Kentucky showed off a nasty sweeping slider when he was up in the count.
Wareham supplied Pop with some early run support in the bottom of the second.
Gavin Sheets flied a one out single to center, Jonathan Engelmann reached on an error, and after Robbie Metz flied out to right, Bart knocked home Sheets with a base hit through the shortstop hole.
In the top half of the fourth, Pop ran into his only trouble of the night as he surrendered the three consecutive hits – the last an RBI single off the bat of Dave MacKinnon – allowing Bourne to tie the score at one.
Pop, however, was able to get through five innings, capping off his outing with a 1-2-3 top of the fifth, to put himself in position to collect his first win of the season.
The Gatemen offense made sure to pick their starter up in the home half of the fifth and it once again revolved around Bart.
With nobody on and one out, Bart singled up the middle to assure himself his first multi-hit game of the season. Moments later, Nico Giarratano reached on a bunt single, and a Joey Bartosic sacrifice bunt moved the two runners into scoring position with two men down.
Cole Freeman stepped up to the plate, and on 2-1 showed bunt, potentially distracting Braves catcher Elih Marrero. The incoming fastball skidded off Marrero’s glove and went to the backstop, allowing Bart to scamper home and give Wareham a 2-1 lead.
“I have been getting a feel of the wood bat,” said Bart on his recent offensive resurgence. “After working all spring with a metal bat, coming in here and working hard with (Harrison Wenson). We have been pushing each other and it’s starting to show.”
Gunner Leger took control from there. The left-hander out of Louisiana Lafayette increased his scoreless innings streak to 11 with three more on Monday night. For the second consecutive outing, Leger showed a willingness to pitch both lefties and righties on the inner third of the plate with his fastball.
Multiple times over the course of his three innings of work, Leger started an opposing hitter off with a fastball inside before sending them back to the dugout shaking their head due to a disappearing low and away changeup.
“(Bourne) is one of the better lineups in this league, so I knew I was going to have to stay inside and mix and match. I was able to command in and out, and the defense played well so it all worked out,” said Leger on his outing.
The Braves threatened in the top of the ninth, putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base, but Casey Mize (Auburn) was able to retire Marrero on a 2-2 fastball to complete the save.