By TRISTAN HOBBES
ORLEANS ---- Although the final two games of the playoffs might not show it, it was another successful summer for the Orleans Firebirds. They drew more than 40,000 fans to Eldredge Park ---- leading the league in attendance ----- and qualified for the playoffs for the third straight season.
The pitching staff had much to do with the team’s success. Led by All-Stars Kyle Simon (Arizona) and Marcus Stroman (Duke), the Firebirds led the league with a 2.21 ERA. It was the fourth straight year they have done so and the sixth time since 2000.
Simon was an unimpressive 1-2, but carried a 0.92 ERA through seven regular-season starts. The Firebirds were shut out in his first three starts, with one being a no-hitter by Y-D’s Jordan Pries (Stanford). They supported Simon with just eight runs during the regular season.
Stroman was equally impressive out of the bullpen. The right-hander was one of the league’s dominant closers, collecting 10 saves, while not allowing a run in 28 innings. His scoreless summer tied a franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings that was set by Brian Rogers in 2002. Stroman struck out 35, walked just three and only gave up 12 hits all summer.
It wasn’t just those two that did all the work. Mitchell Lambson (Arizona State) started his summer with 8.2 innings of perfect relief, soft-throwing left-hander Kenny Long (Illinois St.) racked up 13 consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run, Matt Sisto (Hawaii) had a streak of 23 scoreless innings and Ryan Carpenter (Gonzaga) took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against Bourne.
The pitching staff accumulated a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 340 to 120 and opponents hit just .200 on the season. The pitching staff kept the Firebirds in the playoff hunt. Of their 44 regular-season games, 32 were decided by three runs or fewer, with 15 being losses.
The season did not start well. They lost their first three games before winning four straight. A victory over Falmouth on June 26 was the last time the Firebirds touched .500 for a month. They followed that with a 1-6 mark, including four straight losses, and went 8-12 in the next 20 games.
Then came the turning point of the season. Sitting at 14-18, they traveled to Brewster on July 22 and trailed 2-1 heading into the sixth inning with a steady rain falling. Steve Selsky (Arizona) tied the game with a monster home run over the scoreboard, and Matt Newman (Arizona State) and Preston Tucker (Florida) scored two more runs to make it 4-2. In the bottom of the sixth, with no outs and a runner on first, the game was delayed 15 minutes due to rain. It was picked up, and then eventually called after the Firebirds retired the side for a 4-3 victory.
Following that win, the Firebirds finished the season on a 9-1-2 tear, including an eight-game winning streak that included an eight-run ninth inning comeback against Harwich on July 29.
With that momentum, they entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed against second-seeded Brewster and fell behind 1-0 in the series before rallying to win the next two games.
The East Division championship round did not go as well. They were swept by Y-D, 23-10 and 13-4.
Orleans featured one of the most prominent lineups in the league, led by Kolten Wong (Hawaii), who was named the Pat Sorenti Most Valuable Player. The second baseman turned down Team USA to play in Orleans and finished the year at the top of several offensive categories, including second in OBP (.426) and stolen bases (22) and third in batting average (.341).
Selsky also turned in a strong summer, leading the team with four home runs and 18 RBI. In the playoffs, he hit homers in three consecutive games. Shon Roe (Loyola Marymount) barely missed hitting .300, finishing at .299.