Western Division Finals Preview: Willie MacIver's Catching Expertise Will Be at Heart of Gatemen Success

 

Over the weekend, the Gatemen proved that getting in is all that counts.

 

After sputtering down the stretch in which they lost three consecutive games to close out their regular season schedule, the Gatemen rebounded in the first round of the Cape Cod Baseball League playoffs sweeping the Western Division’s number one overall seed in Falmouth.

 

Now, a familiar foe in the Bourne Braves await in the Western Division Finals with a trip to the Cape Cod Baseball League championship on the line. Bourne swept Cotuit this past weekend, winning game 6-3 in 11 innings before coming back later Sunday night to win 4-2 to eliminate the Kettleers.

 

The Braves and Gatemen have met in each of the last two years in the playoffs, with Bourne sweeping both series.

 

This series, however, brings a different feel to it, with each time riding high after series sweeps over division rivals.

 

Here is how the series breaks down.

 

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Bourne Braves

 

Seed: Three

 

Record: 24-22-0 (2-0)

 

Last 10 Games: 5-5

 

Runs Per Game: 4.30

 

Runs Allowed Per Game: 4.54

 

Players to Watch: Zac Susi, C; Grant Williams, 2B; Lyle Lin, C; Jameson Hannah, OF; Scott Schreiber, 1B; Grant Witherspoon, OF; PJ Poulin, LHP; Brian Eichhorn, RHP;

 

Overview: Similar to Wareham, the Braves suffered a late season swoon of their own dropping five consecutive games before rebounding for a late season sweep of the Gatemen heading into the postseason. Bourne’s offense has ramped it up over the last week scoring six runs or more in four of their last five contests. Lyle Lin and Grant Williams have been staples in the Braves’ lineup all season long. Lin finished the regular season hitting .283 with 21 RBIs, while Williams tied for fifth in the league in hits with 44. Jameson Hannah has been a Gatemen killer, batting to the tune of a .391 average during the regular season against Wareham.

            On the mound, the Braves have survived despite the departures of top arms Zac Hess and Ryan Felter. PJ Poulin and Sean Leland have been solid middle relief arms, while Brian Eichhorn and Eli Kraus spearhead the rotation. Feltner, who took home the Cape League’s Russ Ford Outstanding Relief Pitcher Award, has seen his closers role taken by Chad Luensmann who slams the door for Nebraska in the spring.

 

Wareham Gatemen

 

Seed: Fourth

 

Record: 20-25-1

 

Last 10 Games: 4-6

 

Runs Per Game: 4.30

 

Runs Allowed Per Game: 4.35

 

Players to Watch: Aaron Hernandez, RHP; Noah Zavolas, RHP; Brett Conine, RHP; Grant Wolfram, LHP; Willie MacIver, C/3B; Steven Kwan, OF; Jake Anchia, 1B;

 

Overview: In the opening round of the Cape League playoffs, the formula for success on the mound could not have worked out much more perfectly for pitching coach Jim Lawler. Aaron Hernandez pitched five solid innings in game one before turning it over to Grant Wolfram, Barrett Loseke, and Brett Conine while six innings out of Noah Zavolas in game two set the stage for Jordan Britton and Darrien Ragins to close it out. Offensively, Wareham consistently came through with the clutch hit. Jake Anchia and Joe Drpich each blasted two out home runs in game one and Anchia provided the go-ahead RBI with a two out base hit in game two.

            Now, Wareham will have to dethrone the Braves without their top two starters available. Fitz Stadler is expected to make the start in game one of the series, while Justin Montgomery and Wolfram are both options for game two. The Gatemen have seen a noticeable improvement in their play defensively, as John Toppa has taken away an extra base hit on three separate occasions so far this playoffs and Jarren Duran has shown a flair for the dramatic over at third. Most of all, though, Wareham has received dramatic contributions from the newcomer in Drpich. Drpich, out of Sienna, scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth against the Commodores, sliding right around the tag of Commodores catcher Joshua Breaux. A power bat from the left-hand side, Drpich poses a big time threat to a right-handed heavy Braves staff.

 

Gatemen’s Keys to the Series:

 

(1) Get Through Five

 

 

While Wareham may not have their front of their rotation starters slated to start in the Western Division Finals, both Stadler and Montgomery have shown the ability already this season to keep the Gatemen offense within striking distance. In his most impressive outing the season, Stadler went five plus innings against the best offense in the Cape League in the Orleans Firebirds holding them to just three earned runs. Montgomery, meanwhile, was after all the Western Division’s All-Star Game starting pitcher and began the year with an eye opening 21 consecutive inning scoreless streak.

            If the Gatemen are able to get just five productive innings out of their starters, they should be in a position to get two wins in the series. Brett Conine is expected to be available for at least one inning of work on Tuesday if not more as is Barrett Loseke. Then there is Wolfram, who can be used for up to three innings of work as long Lawler and head coach Don Sneddon don’t plan to use him as a starter down the line. Look for Dalton Roach to make his postseason debut in one of the contest’s most critical moments.

 

(2) Willie MacIver

 

Throughout the first half of the regular season, Willie MacIver was widely regarded for his offensive capabilities. An immediate threat in the heart of the Gatemen order, MacIver showcased gap-to-gap power and stole the occasional base. All season long, however, it has been MacIver’s game calling while behind the dish that has brought out his true value to the Gatemen. The University of Washington catcher was instrumental in Wareham’s downing of the Falmouth Commodores, working with the Gatemen staff on a plan that involved pitching backwards to a heavy fastball-hitting lineup.

            Now, MacIver once again will be asked to quiet a lineup that has had frequent success against the Gatemen this season. Over the course of the two team’s final matchups of the regular season, Bourne combined for 25 runs including 13 in their last contest at Doran Park.  Wareham’s pitching staff has been quite the revolving door of sorts with arms such as Miller Hogan and Joey Matulovich reaching their limits while relievers like Hernandez have transformed into starters. Still, one constant all season long has been the leadership of MacIver and if Wareham is to reach the Cape League finals for the first time since 2012, the game-caller extraordinaire will have to be at his best once again.

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