It’s crunch time at the Shark Tank in Oak Bluffs. With a dozen games remaining in the regular season, your Martha’s Vineyard Sharks lead the Worcester Bravehearts by one game in Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) regular-season play.
The Sharks have led from the opening bell, but the surging Bravehearts have closed the gap in a season of Sharks excellence in the college wooden-bat summer league. With 29 wins, the Sharks will likely set a franchise record for wins (35 by the 2013 championship squad), had 12 players selected to the FCBL All-Star teams, and FCBL leader stats are dotted with Sharks.
The Sharks will likely need to shatter the record to finish at the FCBL top before playoffs begin in mid-August. For one thing, four of their final dozen games are with the Bravehearts, including three on the road in Worcester.
For another, it’s that time of the season when strange things happen. Take Friday night’s square-off with the Brockton Rox at the Tank, a pure exhibition of zanyball with all manner of goings-on.
Brockton won it 4-3 after amassing 10 hits, nine walks, and a runner reaching on a Sharks error, leaving 12 on base. In comparison, the Sharks had four hits, two walks, and two left stranded. Not the stuff of low-scoring one-run games, yet you had the feeling until the final out that the Sharks might pull it out.
It was a night of bizarre plays, an evening when veteran Island umpire Wally Gold heard it all night from both benches questioning his strike zone. And one on which a large white moth freewheeling inside the screen was conked by a foul back, ending its evening and permanently setting its spirit free, to groans from fans behind the plate.
The game began with a Mike Mikulski highwire act. The normally solid Sharks lefty gave up three hard-hit first-inning balls, but K-ed two hitters to escape. Mikulski struck out the side in the second, sandwiched around two walks and a bloop single that plated the first Rox run. He would not wriggle out of the third after walking a man, before Matt Ronai (brother of Shark Brian Ronai) took him deep for a two-run homer and a 3-0 Rox lead.
Things got interesting in the bottom of the third when the Sharks scored three times to tie it, courtesy of a Matt Chamberlain (three hits) RBI single and a botched double-play relay throw that plated two more Sharks.
The Rox scored the game winner in the fifth with a single, walk, and double. The Sharks dodged further damage with a stellar grab by third-sacker Kellen Hathaway, who froze a Rox runner at third, then threw out the hitter at first.
The coolest play of the evening came in the Rox seventh after they loaded the bases with no outs on two walks and a single,. Clearly, feeding time … but wait. Sharks reliever Nate Tellier uncorked a low one that skipped to the screen. Sharks catcher Matt Oldham was on it like a badger, threw a strike to Tellier, who swiped the runner attempting to score from third, then flipped to Hathaway at third to tag the runner advancing from second. A double play on a wild pitch. You don’t see that every day.
Still 4-3, but the Sharks only managed Chamberlain’s third hit over the final three frames and the .500 Rox had a win.
The Sharks rebounded with two wins over the Bristol Blues, 6-4, Saturday in Connecticut, and 10-6, Monday night at the Tank. Now, their All-Star cast gets ready for the final push.
Sharks 2018 All-Stars were position players Jackson Raper, Chamberlain, Nick Raposo, Matt Oldham, Eric Foggo, Hathaway, and Colin Shapiro, and pitchers Connor Hall, Devon DiMascio, Shawn Babineau, Bryan Ketchie, and Chance Huff.