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#RunItBack: Bourne's Quest To Repeat

08/02/2023 9:41 PM

Article By: Kaileigh Grieb

The final push is here.

With the regular summer season winding down and playoffs looming in the distance, the pressure’s building on eight of the Cape Cod Baseball League's ten teams to finish on top.

But, the pressure is on especially for one of these teams. That team being the 2022 Cape Cod Baseball League Champions, the Bourne Braves.

This time last season, the Braves had a record of 23-14, soon beating the Brewster Whitecaps in the final championship game at Stony Brook Field.

Their winning roster included players who knew exactly what it took to be dialed in. One player in particular being CCBL’s 2022 Play of the Year and first round draft pick, Matt Shaw of the Chicago Cubs.

Although Shaw did not return to Doran Park this summer, the Braves are back and with a fire lit under their 30 man roster. This team is ready to bring back their title and to keep their mean streak alive for yet another summer.

But what does this team have over the others? Two returning champions playing under the same coaches who know exactly what it takes to win it all.

Described as the “culture guys” and looked on as leaders for the Braves, Bryce Elbin and Bryce Cunnigham know how to bring up the team morale and help many of their first year teammates stay driven and focused, all while still having a good time.

Bryce Eblin, an infielder out of the University of Alabama, has had his name repeated like a broken record seemingly all summer long. Both on the mound and on the field, the utility player has been dominating wherever he is needed.

With his batting average of .352 and a total of 19 RBI’s, these stats have given Eblin much traction this summer. Eblin reflected on how much he’s changed and improved since his last season with the Braves, saying that having a better understanding of the game has opened his eyes to how to grow as a leader within the Braves.

“Taking it one pitch at a time. Being a young player, the game kind of speeds up on you and it’s really just you versus yourself out there. Obviously it's pitcher versus hitter, but you kind of just have to think it’s not a pitcher that gets you out, it's yourself getting yourself out swinging at bad pitches,” said Eblin.

“I want to be a leader this year at Tuscaloosa for Alabama and that's my main thing because I wanna go out and help the team,” reflected Eblin.

Also working in Bourne’s favor is Eblin coming off of being named the 2022 Playoff MVP. Last summer, Eblin batted .625 during the Championship Finals with five runs scored, one RBI, and showed his speed on the bases as well having 3 stolen bases. His performance during the clinching game against Brewster is also something to note, as he went 4-5 with two runs scored and one stolen base.

But, keeping his eyes on what's ahead is on the top of Eblin’s list as he reflected on his 2022 summer ball season to where he and the Braves are at now.

“I think it just really comes down to really coming together as a team. I think the coaches really helped us a lot just being able to come out and have fun everyday,” said Eblin.

“I think that's the biggest thing I took away from last year and what I tried to bring into this team this year was to just have fun, relax, and believe in yourself and trust yourself as a player to make the teams better,” said Eblin.

Alongside Eblin, another familiar face returning to the Braves is none other than the right-handed pitcher out of Vanderbilt, Bryce Cunnigham. Although in his last season with the Braves, Cunningham’s stats weren’t anything out of the ordinary he’s now back on Cape and with his head in the game. Cunningham has accumulated a 2.38 ERA this 2023 summer season and has started in six regular season games, all while also making the 2023 All-Star roster for the second summer in a row.

“I’ve improved on my own routines, my daily routines, and getting better on the mound mentally and physically… We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’ll get better,” said Cunningham, when asked on what’s helped improve the Bravos as a whole thus 2023 season.

Being one of the many returners that have helped bring the Braves winning culture back for one more season has been notable for helping bring some sort of stability to the ups and downs of the season. Just picking both Cunnigham and Eblin’s brains a bit on the 2023 summer season gave just a small gateway into how many of the returners of last year share a similar mindset.

That similar mindset is shared in the dugout. Second year assistant coach and former MLB legend, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, alluded to how the energy from last season was something out of the ordinary. Recalling how even after players were given the all-clear by their college coaches to head back home for the summer, they still wanted to finish out their season for the Braves.

“From day one, the players we got in were grinders, great culture kids. I remember half way through the year we had the opportunity where kids were done and they said, “Hey, we met our inning quota and our coach wants us to go home, but the coach said it's up to us. We wanna stay. We wanna win”... I think that was a huge reason why we won because we had kids that wanted to be here and wanted to win,” reflected Saltalamacchia.

Although there have been many changes both on and off the field for the Brave’s and a new roster of players taking on Doran Park, Saltalamacchia still held his ground on saying that the Braves are still here for the right reasons and their heads are in the game.

“We want to be here until the 12th, that's what the plan is. Getting these kids better than when they got here is our goal, always. We know that the bigger picture here is this summer league, it's just strictly for these guys to get exposure,” he said.

"So, they’ve done that and they've gotten that so they can go back to their teams and have a great year and hopefully get drafted next year,” said Saltalamacchia.

Saltalamacchia wasn’t shy in singing much high praise to Braves Field Manager, Scott Landers. Like Saltalamacchia, Scott Landers is also appearing with Brave’s for a second season. In his first year as Field Manager for the Braves did what many Managers can only imagine accomplishing, that being winning a championship.

With that win already under his belt, Landers knows exactly what it takes to bring his players and team to the next level.

“We have a good group again, especially the core players. I think it’s a much tougher situation this summer with guys coming and going and the transfer portal and just the way college baseball is right now at this point and time. But, I think right now going into the playoffs we have exactly what we need to make it run,” said Landers.

When asked about his returners, notably Cunnigham and Eblin, and how having them back on his roster has benefitted the team morale, Landers spoke highly on what he called “the backbone” of the team.

“I think it’s huge from a culture standpoint because those two guys (Cunningham and Eblin) were a part of that championship squad and they're really a big part of and the backbone of what we tried to do last year and what we accomplished,” said Landers.

“Just being unselfish and wanting to play everyday and to win on a consistent basis is something that you really have to work on in the summer and I think those two have helped tremendously with that,” reflected Landers.

So with it being a new season with a roster of new guys who share similar goals under leadership both at the top of the organization as well as within the dugouts of Doran Park, the goal and message of this team is clear: stay and win another championship.

The question is this: Will the Bourne Braves live up to their motto of “Running It Back” or will the pressure be too much for the Braves to handle?

Only time will tell with the 2023 regular season coming to an end and the playoffs just around the corner, all eyes will fall onto the Bourne Brave to see if they could handle the heat or if they will burn out come the first round.