By: Aodhán Doyle
BREWSTER, MA- Throughout their season, the list of words used to describe the 2017 Brewster Whitecaps seemed as long as the season itself.
Some of the most common included “tough,” “resilient,” “gritty,” “underdogs,” or “flawed.”
In the end, however, the title that will forever be synonymous with coach Jamie Shevchik’s team is the one every player, coach, and competitor strives for: “champions.”
It was that very grit, toughness, and resilience that propelled Brewster to the top, as for the third consecutive series, the Whitecaps won a do-or-die game three, this time 2-0 over the Bourne Braves at Stony Brook Field.
The Cape League championship is Brewster’s first since 2000 and just their second total.
“It was unbelievable,” said Shevchik. “I can’t explain the feeling. I mean, the whole atmosphere was angelic. To see all these people here go crazy after we won this was, by far, the best experience that I’ve had. I’ve gotten to championship games in college, I’ve gotten to championship games in summer ball, but I had never won one.”
“Everyone on our team, this game, knew we were going to win from the beginning,” said Whitecaps starter Will Tribucher (Michigan). “There wasn’t any doubt in anyone’s mind, we were going to find a way, whether it be scoring a lot of runs, or good defense.”
Entering the playoffs, Brewster was an afterthought in the Eastern Division.
After all, the other three playoff teams were the Orleans Firebirds, who had the best record in the entire league, the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, who had won the last three league championships, and the Chatham Anglers, one of the oldest franchises in the league and the consistent league leaders in attendance.
In fact, in a Twitter poll conducted on August 6th, the Cape League asked fans who was going to advance in the playoffs from the Eastern Division.
Out of the four teams, Brewster finished fourth, with just 14-percent of the vote.
But championships aren’t won through polls, or through previous years’ successes, or through regular season statistics.
They’re won on the field, and when it mattered most, nobody was better than Brewster.
Every time it looked like the Whitecaps were out of it, they overcame.
Every time they had their backs against the wall, they evaded defeat and surged to victory.
Every time a big play needed to be made, they made it.
But it just couldn’t come easily, or without a do-or-die situation. Not with this team.
Against Y-D in the first round, Brewster blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning and lost 8-5, a crushing loss that forced them to win two consecutive games, including a game three on the road, in order to advance. They did.
Against top-seeded Orleans in the second round, the Whitecaps lost game one, putting themselves in a 1-0 hole and again needing to win two back-to-back elimination games. Behind the unlikely hero in Conor McNamara (Marist), who was handed the ball in game three for his first Cape League start after appearing in just three regular season games, the Whitecaps did it again.
Facing Bourne in the finals, it was a new situation for Brewster. For once, they weren’t considered the underdogs, having home-field advantage for the first time.
After winning game one on a walk-off hit-by-pitch, Brewster let a 7-3 fifth inning lead slip through their fingers in game two, forcing their third consecutive game three.
The atmosphere at Stony Brook Field was electric, with a ballpark-record 4,591 fans watching the game in person and hundreds more tuning in online.
Fans brought personalized signs, made make-shift drums out of buckets and spoons, developed custom chants for specific players, and in turn, were rewarded with euphoria.
“For me, this was big, and for the people of Brewster, it’s even bigger,” Shevchik said.
“I think Brewster, as a town, deserved this,” said Tribucher.
Exactly one week after his stellar outing in game number two of the first round and three days after he shut the door on the Firebirds with two perfect innings to end game three, the Whitecaps handed the ball to Tribucher on the mound.
The lefty, who entered the playoffs with a 4.10 regular season earned run average, delivered when Brewster needed him most.
Before the game, Shevchik said Tribucher looked locked in and very soon, it was clear Shevchik wasn’t wrong.
Tribucher spun six and two-thirds shutout innings and struck out five, while allowing just five hits and picking up the win.
“He was locked in,” said Troy Miller (Michigan) about Tribucher. “It’s funny that our head coach said that, because I told everyone in the bullpen before the game that he was locked in and you could tell from the first pitch.”
In 16.1 postseason innings, Tribucher went 2-0 with a 0.55 earned run average and picked up wins in two do-or-die games and saved another.
After starting the season on a temporary contract, Tribucher turned into the Whitecaps’ best pitcher in the postseason.
Marty Costes (Maryland) gave the Whitecaps a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning on a sacrifice fly to center field.
A.J. Graffanino (Washington) led off the inning with an infield single and was moved to third on a Mickey Gasper (Bryant) single, before Costes brought him home.
While Costes had the game-winning RBI for Brewster, it was his glove that secured the victory.
After Tribucher was removed from the game with a runner at first and two outs in the seventh, Joe DeMers (Washington) entered and allowed a walk and a single to load the bases.
With the Whitecaps leading 2-0 at the time, the tying run was in scoring position for Bourne and Lyle Lin (Arizona State), one of Bourne’s best hitters, stepped into the box.
Lin worked a full count and then crushed a high fastball into the left-center field gap.
Then, Costes made the play of the season for Brewster.
Diving to his left at full speed, Costes fully extended, made the catch, and landed on the warning track, robbing Lin of a likely bases-clearing double, that would have given Bourne a 3-2 lead.
Instead, Brewster got out of the jam and moved to just six outs away from a title.
Costes came through in big spot after big spot for the Whitecaps this season, delivering go-ahead home runs and clutch hits seemingly every time he stepped into the box.
None were as big as the Terrapin’s catch in the seventh inning, however, as it quite literally saved Brewster’s season.
After the game, some fans called it “the greatest catch they’ve ever seen.”
Whitecaps bench coach Tommy Weber said that, considering the circumstances, it was the best catch he’d ever seen as well.
It wasn’t the only stellar defensive play by the Whitecaps, though.
Chandler Taylor (Alabama), with runners on first and second, made a sliding grab in right field, taking away a likely RBI-single from Kevin Radziewicz (Fairfield) and preserving Brewster’s 1-0 lead.
In the top of the ninth, after a lead-off single from Zac Susi (UConn), Graffanino ranged deep towards second base to get a ball that seemed destined for center field off the bat of Tyler Fitzgerald (Louisville). The Husky flipped the ball backwards to Nick Dunn (Maryland), who made the relay throw on to first to complete the double play.
All season long, Brewster’s defense was an issue. They finished the regular season with the third-worst fielding percentage in the league, a category they found themselves in the cellar in for most of the season.
But like so much about the team, when the stakes were highest, their defense was flawless.
“We had some great plays today,” Tribucher said. “Marty Costes made a great play that saved the game. They had my back. I never have a doubt with any of the guys behind me. I’m always throwing to try and make them get outs, and they came up and made some big time plays today.”
Hunter Bishop (Arizona State) continued his hot postseason with an opposite-field home run in the bottom of the sixth.
It was Bishop’s third home run of the postseason, all to opposite-field and all in the last seven days.
“I think it’s just consistent at-bats,” Bishop said when asked about his power surge. “I was struggling early in the season, but then I kind of found my stroke, especially late in the playoffs. Shev told me it’s going to take me a little bit, I might struggle in the regular season, but he said his plan for me was to turn it on in the playoffs and pretty much do what I did. So, I’m just glad to help the team in whatever way I could.”
Miller, who joined the Whitecaps on July 27th when the team’s pitching depth was running thin and Tribucher recommended Miller to Shevchik, closed the game out with a six-out save.
“It’s good to see him do well,” said Tribucher about his fellow Wolverine. “He came out and joined us late in the season and he’s been lights out this whole time. We trusted him and we knew we were going to finish the game with him.”
“All the infielders and outfielders had made plays all game,” Miller said. “They were behind me the whole time and they told me just to get outs, so that’s what I tried to do.”
Miller finished his postseason with a perfect 0.00 earned run average in three appearances.
“I don’t know if we feel anything yet, it’s kind of unreal,” Miller said about the win. “All the guys were committed all summer and it was awesome that they invited me out here at the end. It was a great celebration and I’m sure we’ll enjoy it tonight too.”
Darius Hill (West Virginia) also picked up two hits for the Whitecaps, raising his batting average in the postseason to a team-best .316.
In most games and against most teams, the performance Bourne got from its pitchers is enough for a win.
Sunday wasn’t most games, however, and the 2017 Whitecaps weren’t most teams.
Starter Daniel Bies (Gonzaga) tossed four innings of one-run, four-hit ball, before turning it over to Blake Whitney (South Carolina Upstate).
Whitney managed to be even better, striking out six and allowing just one run on three hits in four innings.
But in the end, all Brewster needed was just one run.
“It was pretty early, honestly,” said Bishop about when he realized the team could contend for a title. “Just seeing how much talent the whole entire team had in the lineup, one through nine, and then, obviously, our pitchers, it’s a special team. I don’t know if I’ll ever play on a team as good as this, but they’re special guys and it’s friendships for life.”
“I think when we got into the Y-D series and we tied it up and we had nothing to lose after that, it clicked a little bit that the guys here really wanted to win,” Shevchik said. “It wasn’t about showcasing their talent anymore, nobody was going home at that point, we were left with the guys who really wanted to win a championship and that’s when it clicked.”
Bishop and Dunn were named Co-Playoff MVPs by the league.
“I’m super fortunate to have my name called, but I think this guy deserves it the whole year,” Bishop said, looking at Dunn. “He put on a show the entire Cape season and he helped me a lot throughout the whole entire thing. So, it’s a blessing and I’m grateful for everything I got.”
Bishop had three home runs and five runs driven in in the postseason, on top of outstanding defense in center field, while Dunn finished the playoffs with a .306 average, one home run, and seven runs driven in.
Dunn, along with Graffanino, Julian Infante (Vanderbilt), and Zack Gahagan (UNC) were part of the 2016 Whitecaps team that missed the playoffs after losing their last five games.
For them, and for coach Shevchik, this title run was even sweeter.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Dunn said. “To have a great group of guys like this, to be with them all summer, come this far, and win, it’s pretty special.”
“I’m happy for them,” Shevchik said. “Especially when we didn’t even make the playoffs last year. To come out here and win a championship, I’m happy for every single one of these guys. This is a group that I would love to be around for a long, long, time. The bad thing about summer baseball is we get to rent them for two-and-a-half months. So, hopefully we can get some guys to come back here next year and hopefully we can have a great year again. It’s going to be hard to top this one. If somebody recorded this season, it’d be an award-winning movie, that’s for damn sure.”
The Whitecaps’ run to the title was truly miraculous.
In the first two rounds, their two opponents combined for 56 regular season wins, and by beating them, Brewster set a new record in highest number of wins by teams beaten in a single postseason.
Every winning pitcher for the Whitecaps in the postseason either started the season as a temporary player or not on the roster.
Out of the 15 pitchers on the postseason roster, only five arrived in Brewster on the roster and with a permanent contract.
“I think it was just our guys starting to buy-in to winning, playing team baseball, and trying to win a championship,” Shevchik said. “We had some guys that really stepped up. Guys like Chandler Taylor (who started the season on a temporary contract), who became another vocal leader, and Hunter Bishop, everybody. Everybody from the pitching staff to the guys who were around the bench, they were engaged throughout the entire series and you saw it. You’re going to be able to go back and look at every video on Twitter and Facebook, there’s not going to be one kid that’s down.”
Also, because all three rounds went to three games for the Whitecaps, the team set a Cape League record by playing a total of 53 games (44 regular season, nine playoffs) in a single season.
The 2017 Whitecaps weren’t the flashiest team, or the most talented team, or the most consistent team, but when the moment called, Brewster answered.
WHAT’S NEXT: Celebration.