After an early season struggle, Adrian Tovalin has quickly developed in a powerful end of the order bat.
In the bottom of the eighth inning on Monday night, Tovalin came to the plate with two runners on and the Gatemen mired in a 3-3 tie with Orleans. The rising junior out of Azusa Pacific came through, drilling his second double of the day and fourth extra base hits in two games into the right center-field gap. Tovalin’s shot dropped and rolled to the wall, allowing Ezequiell Sanchez and Jonathan Pryor to score without a problem.
One half inning later, the combination of Dalton Horton and Christian Taugner combined to give up one run, but hold on as the Gatemen improved to 11-2-1 in their last 14 games, defeating Orleans, 5-4, on an unusually chilly evening at Spillane Field.
Wareham coach Jerry Weinstein said it was only a matter of time until Tovalin adjusted to Cape League pitching.
“Tovalin has been pretty good in batting practice all year long that has definitely not been the issue,” said Weinstein. “It’s the game where it speeds up and slows down and you’re getting off-speed pitches in fastball counts. He has started to slow the game down also and he has a better game plan.”
The Gatemen pounced on the Firebirds in the opening inning. Cole Freeman started things off with a leadoff double, and two batters later Joey Bart brought him home by singling back through the box.
Bart, just two innings later, was involved in the games biggest turning point.
At the plate with the Gatemen still nursing a 1-0 lead, Bart appeared to be hit by a pitch, causing him to slowly walk down to first.
The home plate umpire, however, ruled that Bart offered at the delivery from Orleans starter Joe Ryan and summoned him back to the batters box.
Bart openly admitted he was nothing short of frustrated.
“I thought I had a free base for a second, I was excited for a season,” recalled Bart.
Bart made sure that the apparent misfortune quickly turned into a positive.
Two pitches later, with Bart now ahead in the count 3-1, Ryan grooved a fastball and Bart was all over it, drilling it into the bleachers in left field to give Wareham a 3-0 lead.
“I’ve been chasing some pitches out of the zone recently,” said Bart. “At that moment I was just trying to get a good pitch, luckily I put a good swing on it and it carried out of the ballpark. Obviously rather take that than just a free base.”
Jeff Bain, making the start for Wareham, cruised through the first three innings, not surrendering a hit and allowing just one base runner via a fielding error.
Orleans offense, which came into the game second in the league in batting average, was not as generous their second time through the order.
After Bain retired Ethan Paul for the first out of the inning, Adam Haseley picked up the Firebirds first hit of the day lining a double down the left field line.
Two batters later, Riley Mahan got the Firebirds on the board singling up the middle to score Haseley to cut the Gatemen lead to 3-1.
Garrett Benge and Payton Squier kept the line moving, coming up with back-to-back singles, bringing home Mahan and trimming the deficit to just one.
Bain was able to get through the inning without further damage, striking out Keegan McGovern with the bases loaded to keep the Gatemen’s 3-2 lead intact heading into the fifth inning.
“He gave up two pop flies, a bunt hit, couple hart hit balls but some through the grass so as long as he is pumping the strike zone that’s fine with me,” said Weinstein.
Weinstein called on Dalton Horton to relieve Bain in the top half of the fifth, and overall found terrific success on the mound.
The left-hander out of Texas Christian University went 4.2 innings, surrendering one earned run on four hits, walking one and striking out just three.
Horton showcased his highly regarded change-up, throwing 8 of the 13 he lofted in for strikes.
Despite his overall solid performance on the mound, Horton did run into some trouble in the top of the seventh, when Orleans rallied to even the score at three.
Justin Jones lead off with a single, and moved over to second on an errant pickoff attempt. After Will Golsan advanced Jones to third on a ground ball to second, Brad Miller came up clutch, sneaking a single by Cole Freeman to even the score at three.