The summer of 2007 was the last time a team with the best regular-season record in the Cape League went on to the league championship. Even with a team as good as the 2015 Orleans Firebirds, the streak lives on.
Defending champion Yarmouth-Dennis ousted Orleans Saturday night at Eldredge Park, riding dominant pitching for the second consecutive day to a 2-1 victory. The Red Sox, who had lost game one, also won by a 2-1 score in Friday’s game two, which went 13 innings. Orleans – which had the same record as the 2007 Y-D Red Sox, the last team to win with the best mark – is out by the narrowest of margins.
With Mitchell Jordan (Stetson) on the hill Saturday and the offense chomping at the bit after being limited for 13 innings the night before, Orleans seemed poised for a rebound. Instead, Y-D found a way.
Dustin Hunt (Northeastern), who had a 4.96 ERA this spring and began his summer in the Y-D bullpen, drew the start. He had delivered some pretty good performances and quietly struck out 33 in 22.2 innings. Saturday, he was a whole lot better than pretty good. Hunt struck out 10 and gave up just two hits in 7.2 innings. Neither of the hits went for extra bases.
And he pitched with a lead. Gio Brusa (Pacific), the third batter of the game, hit the first home run that Jordan has surrendered all summer in staking the Red Sox to the 1-0 lead. Brusa was at it again in the eighth, hitting a two-out double and scoring on a Donnie Walton (Oklahoma State) single.
Hunt struck out the first two batters in the eighth before Evan Bell (Indiana) relieved him. The Firebirds quickly started their comeback, getting a base hit by Sean Murphy (Wright State) and an error in left field that allowed him to score. Another error put runners on first and third, but Y-D escaped with a force-out at second base.
In the ninth – with the middle of the order up – Bell struck out home run king Bobby Dalbec (Arizona) and retired standout Kyle Lewis (Mercer). After a single by Willie Abreu (Miami), Chad Hockin (Cal State Fullerton) relieved Bell and ended the game with a strikeout.
It was a fitting finish – Y-D pitching allowed Orleans two runs in the last two games – all 22 innings of them – and the Red Sox are moving on because of it.
For Orleans, it’s a tough ending. As a fan, I like to see great teams do great things. But as is often the case in the Cape League, the great things can come from anybody.
Y-D will be in the finals for the sixth time in the last 10 years, a remarkable stretch.
The championship series begins tonight at McKeon Park.