The race for the top spot in the Cape Cod Baseball League Western Division shifted back and forth over the past week with the Bourne Braves and Wareham Gatemen struggling for divisional supremacy. Meanwhile, the Cotuit Kettleers are on their heels and the Falmouth Commodores are showing signs that theyíre not out of the running, while in the East, Orleans appears to be running away from the rest with a 10-point lead over second-place
The Braves went east, paying a visit to Veterans Field in Chatham Tuesday night and brought the artillery. Gib Hobson (NC State) picked up his fourth win of the summer with a stunning eight inning outing in which he held the Athletics to just three hits, while striking out 10 and not allowing a walk. Over six starts and 38.2 innings of work, Hobson has an ERA of 2.09 and has struck out 44, at the same time allowing only four walks.
The Braves backed Hobson up with 11 hits. The big one came in the third inning when Brad Lincoln (Houston) hit a grand slam over the right field fence, scoring Brett Bartles (Duke), Robbie Widlansky (Florida Atlantic), and Mike Hernandez (Oklahoma State). Lincoln drove in the first run of the game in the second inning when he doubled home Blake Murphy (Western Carolina). In the fifth, Hernandez went deep with a jack over the left field fence to make it a 6-0 game.
Lincoln leads Bourne with a batting average of .302 and is first on the team in home runs (3), RBI (16), slugging (.524) and on base percentage (.403).
Bunky Kateon (Mississippi State) came home with the seventh Bourne run in the top of the ninth on a base hit by Justin Henry (Ole Miss).
Romas Hicks (Georgia State) came in for the ninth, allowing the only run Chatham would score.
Two hits were all the Braves were able to get against Falmouth righthander Tim Norton (Connecticut) Monday as they lost to the Commodores 1-0. Nick Manganaro (South Florida) had the hill for Bourne and after giving up a run in the first, shut Falmouth down.
Lincoln got the start Sunday when the Braves hosted red-hot Orleans and with the exception of a rocky fifth inning, turned in a solid seven-inning performance. Two errors in the frame lead to two unearned runs as the Cardinals crossed the plate four times on the way to a 4-1 win. Bourneís lone run came in the second inning when Josh Stinson (San Jacinto) scored on a base hit off Henryís bat.
Henry, who finished the day Sunday 2-for-4 with an RBI, hit with wood last summer in the Coastal Plains League where he posted a .335 average at the plate for the Thomasville Hi-Toms. "That helped me a lot," he said of the experience. "Itís a lot different hitting with wood and that experience definitely made a difference. Every night,you face a top-of-the-line pitcher here. I think we have a good thing going here at Bourne this summer. We want to win and get to the playoffs."
Henry grew up a fan of the Houston Astros and a fan of Craig Biggio. "He came into the league when I was a kid and Iíve always liked the way he plays the game," he said of Biggio who played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in 1986.
Henry, like Biggio, is versatile and fits well into the leadoff spot. This year he is getting the chance to run and leads the team with 11 stolen bases.
"At school we were more of a home run hitting team and didnít steal a lot of bases," he explained. "It was something I wanted to work on this summer. Iím trying to improve and get better for next year."
Henry is a smart baseball player. Talented with tools, he was one of the best high school players in Mississippi in 2003. He was not drafted out of high school and after a redshirt freshman season at Ole Miss, he played behind a senior at second base last spring. Next year, when he is again eligible for the Major League June draft, someone is sure to grab him.
Lincoln, who is making a bid for the Cape League All-Star team with his performance this summer, pitched well against Orleans, although he didnít figure in the decision. This summer in six starts, he is 1-1 with a 1.67 ERA. His command has been steady throughout the season, striking out 35 in 37.2 innings pitched while allowing 10 walks.
"I felt good," Lincoln said of his outing against the Cardinals. "My fastball was locating pretty good, I felt my curve was real sharp and my change up was decent enough to keep them honest. This whole summer has been good to me. Everyday Iíve felt strong. Knowing that I have run support behind me means that I donít have to strike out everybody. I can let them hit the ball and let the fielders do their work."
The Braves slowed down the Gatemen Saturday, handing Wareham a 4-1 defeat. Greg Reynolds (Stanford) got the start, going seven innings holding Wareham to four hits. Hicks entered in the eighth, pitching the final two frames and striking out four to earn the win.
Tied at a run apiece entering the top of the ninth, the Braves pushed three runs across the plate. Widlansky doubled to left field to score Ty Wright (Oklahoma State) and then Lincoln smashed a pinch-hit double to plate Widkansky. Beau Mills (Fresno State) then singled up the middle to score Lincoln.
In the bottom of the ninth, Wright moved from right field over to left, replacing Bartles who was lifted for a pinch hitter. For Wright, a multitalented player, whether its right, left, or center, he just wants to be in the game. "Entering college I was an infielder," Wright smiled. "I was moved to the outfield because we didnít have enough outfielders. This year at school I played mainly left field, but moving around is no big deal."
Before entering college, Wright played some top summer baseball in the Dallas, Texas, area with the Dallas Knights and the Dallas Wildcats. "The level of competition was pretty good," he said of the experience. "Some others guys in the Cape League played there as well; Shelby Ford (Texas Christian) from Falmouth and Drew Johnson (Navarro) of Cotuit, who was one of my good buddies."
In 2003 Wrightís team, the Knights, won the championship.
Last summer Wright got to swing a wood bat in the M.I.N.K League (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas) for the Parkville Sluggers.
"This summer we got off to a great start," he said of Bourneís rise to the top of the Western Division. "I know that this is pretty much a pitcherís league, but I think we did enough offensively to win some ball games. It has been a learning process for me; learning how to use the wood. Iíve been a pull hitter my whole life and now Iím learning how to go the other way. In the second half, I want to put some good swings on the ball and use the whole field. As long as Iím hitting the ball and helping the team, Iím happy."
Forrest Cory III (Florida Atlantic) pitched well enough to win last Friday against Harwich, but the offense couldnít break through, scattering just six hits in a 3-2 loss.
Stinson finished the afternoon 2-for-3 with two RBI. Widlansky and Mills were each 1-for-4 with a run scored.
Bruce Hack, the former Cape League historian, reported that with the 4-1 win at Wareham on Saturday, Head Coach Harvey Shapiro moved into a tie for 10th place on the Cape League managerís career win list alongside former Orleans manager John Castleberry with a record of 170-158-8. Castleberry was 170-164-8 in eight seasons (1984-91). Tuesdayís win over Chatham boosted Shapiro (171-158-8) into ninth place and a tie with Rolando Casanova who compiled a record of 171-170-8 in eight seasons (1989-96) with Brewster and Orleans.
Shapiro needs four more wins to pass Tony Williams (173-142-12), who coached with Harwich and Orleans, (1966-73) to take over eighth place.
The Braves will continue their run toward a playoff spot today when they host Hyannis at 4:45 PM. Reynolds is expected to get the ball for Bourne while the Mets will count with three-year Cape League veteran Mark Sauls (Florida State).