By Zach Leach
It happens to almost every team in every sport in every season. For a stretch of games, it seems like everything clicks and you simply cannot lose. For the 2013 Orleans Firebirds, this phenomenon arrived as the season was closing out, following a brutal 4-11 stretch which had put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. They put together the longest winning streak of any team last summer, winning eight in a row, and finished 11-1-1 in their final thirteen regular season games. This success propelled them to an East Division championship, when most had written them off weeks before.
Cue the 2014 Firebirds squad, who appear to have gotten their winning ways going much earlier this season. With six wins in a row, two of which have been against the East-leading Mariners, Orleans now finds themselves just one game back of first place.
“It’s been great to see these results”, said Edwin Rios (Florida International), who has been the offensive leader of the club so far this season, “We’re just gonna keep doing what we’ve been doing and try to keep winning ballgames.” What the Firebirds have been doing is hitting, and hitting a lot. Over the past six wins, they have scored 59 runs, for an average of almost ten runs a game. “It’s not one guy. We’re swinging the bat throughout the lineup”, commented manager Kelly Nicholson. And he’s right. Six different players have had four or more RBIs during the stretch, while eight are batting over .300 in the past week.
Among the many contributors at the plate have been several players putting up huge numbers during this stretch. Bobby Dalbec (Arizona) is chief among them, as he has a whopping ten RBIs, including two home runs. David Thompson (Miami) has been rolling as well with seven runs scored and seven runs driven in, and R.J. Ybarra (Arizona State) has five of each and is batting .429 too. Mitchell Tolman (Oregon) has led the team in batting and runs with an unreal .500 average and eleven scores. Rios cannot be forgotten either, as he has six RBIs over the last six games to maintain his position amongst the league’s offensive leaders. He doesn’t care who’s knocking them in though, saying “We’re just happy to be scoring runs.”
If you were to only choose on person responsible for this recent offensive explosion though, it would have to be hitting coach Benny Craig. “They’ve been doing really well with Benny Craig, who’s phenomenal”, Nicholson said. “Benny is a guru” Rios agreed, adding “We have a great hitting coach. He’s real tough on us and his hitting ways have stuck with us.”
The winning streak has shown no signs of ending soon, as the past three games have been especially impressive, as the Firebirds have managed to score double-digit runs on double-digit hits in each game. Sunday’s game was a 15-8 win over Harwich, who has the best pitching numbers in the league thus far. Orleans scored all fifteen runs in three five-run innings against the Mariners. Next came the Brewster Whitecaps on Monday, who were beaten 11-7 on an amazing 19 hits. Finally, the Firebirds extended their winning streak on Wednesday with a 13-0 drubbing of the Harbor Hawks. Pitching hadn’t been a highlight of the winning streak until Trent Thornton (UNC) dominated Hyannis. Altogether the Firebirds have scored 39 runs on 48 hits over their last three outings.
Nicholson and his team could not be happier with how things are going right now. “The guys have been coming in and doing early work, and it’s good to see the extra work paying off”, the manager said. “We know it’s not gonna last forever, but we’re gonna enjoy it while we can. Hopefully it continues as long as possible.” The Firebirds face a home-and-home with the Chatham Anglers the next two games, before squaring off again with the East-leading Mariners. By then it could be Harwich chasing Orleans for the division lead. We’ll just have to wait and see how long the Birds can stay on fire.