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Slow start all but forgotten as Falmouth surges back into contention

07/14/2011 9:53 AM

Article By: Christopher Curtis

     It’s difficult to remain optimistic when you lose your first seven games. But the Falmouth Commodores did not surrender to frustration, and instead turned their season around by winning nine of their next 11, placing them in position to reach the playoffs.

Although they began the season in the worst possible way, field manager Jeff Trundy wasn’t overly concerned because many of those defeats came in close games and many of their contract players had not yet arrived.

"If you really look at the scores, we lost a lot of one run games where basically it came down to the fact that we couldn’t get a hit with people in scoring position or get a guy in from third with less than two outs," he said. "All in all, our struggles revolved around the fact that we weren’t scoring runs."

Waiting for contract players to arrive didn’t help the cause. "One thing about this league, the guys come in late. . . and another part is these guys are 19- or 20-years-old," hitting coach Daniel Carte said. "They have heard about this league their whole life and they are kind of feeling their way through at the beginning. It takes them a while to get comfortable."

Carte has firsthand knowledge of the challenges on the Cape. He played outfield for the 2004 Commodores and started the season 0-for-19, while the team began 0-5. He turned around his season and by summer’s end was named league MVP, hitting .308 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs.

His advice to the players was to focus on the immediate future. "Each at-bat and each pitch is important. If you focus on the immediate task at hand and don’t dwell on the past, good or bad, that’s when guys become more consistent," he said.

The Commodore players took note, and infielder Jack Marder (Oregon) found insight from his coach. "The coaches mentioned that the (2004) team started 0-5, so I think we took that into consideration and guys who were struggling at the beginning took that into perspective," he said. "I was 0-for-whatever and I considered that advice and kept it simple."

Marder has been one of the Commodores most consistent hitters, and his approach has paid off in the stat line, hitting .294 with 13 RBIs.

Along with more advanced approaches at the plate, another factor in the turnaround is the unified positive attitude toward winning games. Pitcher Joe Bircher (Bradley), who leads the league in strikeouts, says the team kept their spirits high even after losing the first seven games.

"The biggest thing for our turnaround was even though we did start 0-7 and struggled pretty heavily, we never got down on ourselves. We kept a positive attitude in the dugout and in the clubhouse. No one wanted to lose, but we still kept a positive attitude."

Often when a team finds success, a specific game or moment changes the season’s path. When the 2004 Commodores started 0-5, it was Carte’s walk-off home run, which coincidentally was his first hit of the season, that sparked them to eventually winning the West Division. Marder refers to the Commodores’ first win against the Y-D Red Sox as this year’s turning point. Red Sox starter Joey Denato (Indiana) and Commodores starter Andrew Heaney (Oklahoma) were in the midst of a pitcher’s duel. But the Commodores trailed 3-0 after their bullpen gave up two runs in the top of the sixth inning. The Commodores sliced the deficit to one in the bottom half of the sixth, and in the eighth, Marder scored the tying run on an error. Jeremy Baltz (St. John’s) scored on a sacrifice fly by Spencer Kieboom (Clemson) to put the Commodores in the lead for good.

Since that point, they have gone 12-7, with only the Bourne Braves posting a better record. Along the way, new players arrived to bolster the offense.

"Marder has been a catalyst for us. He plays very unselfishly and is an offensive leader," Trundy said. "Baltz has had some success and given us a competitive at-bat time and time again. Jake Rodriguez (Oregon State) competes at the plate and really battles. Max White (Oklahoma) has been excellent for us with runners in scoring position. Billy Ferriter (UConn) has had a very good summer and will continue to do so. Barrett Barnes (Texas Tech) has come up with key hits too. Kyle Von Tungeln (TCU) has been struggling a bit lately, but he can be a great table-setter for us at the top of the lineup."

Only Baltz has been with Falmouth since the first game.

Meanwhile, the pitching has been steady. Bircher, a southpaw, leads the staff with a 1.30 ERA and tops the league in strikeouts. He was named mid-season Pitcher of the Year by Pointstreak Stats. Left-hander Heaney has also been a steady force in the rotation with a 2.89 ERA, but Falmouth’s bullpen has been of great importance too. "There have been a lot of instances of our bullpen coming in and shutting down the opposing team with runners in scoring position. That’s the biggest thing for us winning games, keeping the other team out of scoring position. It has been unbelievable," Bircher said.

One of the key standouts in the pen, right-hander John Simms (Rice), has taken on the closer’s role. Simms has not allowed a run in 12 innings and has six saves with 23 strikeouts. Pointstreak Stats named him the mid-season Closer of the Year.

Trundy isn’t surprised that the Commodores righted the ship. "I thought to myself, I really like our group of guys, and I felt it would be a matter of time before we would do things a little bit better. I was surprised at how quickly we turned it around, but I think that is a credit to the kids executing a little better, and to how well they got along and came together as a group," he said.