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Great matchups often spell great drama for fans

06/29/2013 8:03 AM

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     Every so often, Cape League fans have the opportunity to watch “the game.”

     It’s not the All-Star game, or the championship final, or even a playoff matchup. Instead, it’s the random regular-season game pitting two hot teams facing off in what promises to be -- and often is -- a truly remarkable battle between the lines.

     In 2011, it was an early-season matchup between the Orleans Firebirds and the Harwich Mariners. Orleans and Harwich were, early on, in a race to see who could stand atop the Eastern Division. When they met on June 29, their second matchup in as many weeks, projections were that this was a game we’d see again -- in the division playoffs. We weren’t entirely wrong.

     The June 29 game ended with a 5-1 Firebirds win, thanks in large part to their pitching staff. Future 2011 CCBL All-Star Tyler Johnson (Stony Brook), who also pitched in a 2-0 win over the Mariners on June 10 that season, had five solid innings on the mound, allowing only two hits and one run. The two teams would finish the regular season tied for wins (24), with Orleans clinching the division by earning three ties to Harwich’s one.

     The Firebirds were looking for a third league championship in nine years -- until the Y-D Red Sox shocked them in the first round of the playoffs.

     In fact, this year’s first Major League Baseball draft pick, Mark Appel (Stanford), pitched for Y-D in the opener of that series, helping knock the Firebirds out of the trophy hunt. Harwich would go on to win that 2011 championship, beating Cinderella-story Falmouth on the Commodores' own field.

     This year, the matchup to watch is between the Mariners and the Cotuit Kettleers. Since overcoming 21- and 11-year droughts, respectively, the two have become mainstays in the championship hunt, and are consistently among the more formidable postseason teams.

     The two teams were originally slated to play on June 28 but were rained out. They are scheduled to meet on Saturday, July 20, at Cotuit at 5 p.m.

     Before the June 28 game was called, both teams led their respective divisions with 9-4-0 records. The rainout is slated to be made up later in July.

     Cotuit’s Alex Haines (Seton Hill), with his 14 strikeouts, 0 walks and 0.00 ERA, is a formidable force enough, but the Kettleers have also been pounding the ball. They’ve driven in 63 runs so far, second only to Y-D (65), and are second in the league in home runs (7) and tied, with Y-D, for the lead in doubles (22).

     Harwich is evenly matched, with 97 hits to Cotuit’s 106, and a defense that has stifled its opponents. The Mariners' pitching staff has held foes at bay, allowing only 83 hits and 32 runs (23 of them earned), easily the lowest totals in the league for both categories. Keaton Hack (Alabama), who was set to start the June 28 game against Cotuit, was on the winning side earlier this season as Harwich topped Cotuit 3-2. While he didn’t pick up the decision in that one, his team got the job done, stopping a ninth-inning rally at Whitehouse Field.

      When Harwich and Cotuit face off again, there’s no guarantee they’ll be division leaders, but the matchup between the small-ball minded Kettleers and the big-swing oriented Mariners always promises to be a clash between giants.